Fair Housing Testing Program
At the Department of Justice, the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division brings suit on behalf of the United States to enforce the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, and familial status. The Act authorizes the Department to bring suits where investigations yield evidence of a pattern or practice of illegal housing discrimination.
In 1991, the Civil Rights Division established the Fair Housing Testing Program within the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, which commenced testing in 1992. Testing refers to the use of individuals who – without any bona fide intent to rent or purchase housing, purchase a mortgage or vehicle loan, or patronize a place of public accommodation – pose as prospective renters, borrowers, or patrons for the purpose of gathering information. This information may indicate whether a provider is complying with federal civil rights laws. The primary focus of the Section's Fair Housing Testing Program has been to identify unlawful housing discrimination based on race, national origin, disability, or familial status in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The Section also has responsibilities to enforce Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the nation's public accommodations law; the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits discrimination in credit; and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides protections for military members as they enter active duty. The Fair Housing Testing Program also conducts testing under these statutes, as well as under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is enforced by the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division.
The Fair Housing Testing Program employs various means to accomplish testing in local communities, including contracts with private fair housing organizations and by using non-attorney Department employees throughout the country. The Department employees are volunteers who have been trained to participate as testers. Using these various means, the Fair Housing Testing Program conducts numerous investigations simultaneously at any given time.
Since 1992, the Department of Justice has resolved 111 pattern and practice testing cases with evidence directly generated from the Fair Housing Testing Program, leading to the recovery of more than $15.3 million, including over $2.3 million in civil penalties and over $13 million in other damages. The vast majority of testing cases filed to date are based on testing evidence that involved allegations of agents misrepresenting the availability of rental units or offering different terms and conditions based on race, and/or national origin, and/or familial status.
The Department has demonstrated that testing can be a valuable tool to investigate housing, lending, and public accommodations market practices and to document illegal discrimination. The Fair Housing Testing Program has greatly enhanced the ability of the Department to identify and to challenge the discriminatory practices that persist in these industries.
To learn more about the history and accomplishments of the program, see The DOJ Fair Housing Testing Program: Three Decades of Guarding Civil Rights.