HUD Issues New Guidance Around Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act for People With Limited English Proficiency

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a “Limited English Proficiency” (LEP) guidance that addresses how those with limited English proficiency are protected against discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

HUD announced in a Sept. 15 press release that it has created new guidelines to clarify that those seeking housing cannot be discriminated against due to a limited ability to speak, read, write or understand English.

LEP guidance prohibits housing providers from using limited English proficiency selectively as an excuse for intentional housing discrimination. It also blocks landlords from using limited English proficiency to cause an unjustified discriminatory effect.

According to the press release, the LEP guidance would prohibit “applying a language-related requirement to people of certain races or nationalities; posting advertisements that contain blanket statements, such as ‘all tenants must speak English’; or immediately turning away applicants who are not fluent in English.” In addition, housing providers may not target racial or national groups for scans related to housing.

“Having a limited ability to speak English should never be a reason to be denied a home,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. “Every family that calls this nation home has the same rights when it comes to renting or buying a home, regardless of where they come from or language they speak.”

The new regulations protect nearly 9 percent of the U.S. population or 25 million people who are not proficient in English, according to the press release. Approximately 16.3 million (or 65 percent) of these individuals speak Spanish, 1.7 million (7 percent) speak Chinese, 850,000 (3 percent) speak Vietnamese, 620,000 (2 percent) speak Korean and 530,000 (2 percent) speak Tagalog. Housing decisions that are based on limited English proficiency may have a greater impact on these and other groups because of their nationality.

Although the Fair Housing Act does not protect people with limited proficiency, it does protect people on seven protected bases, “including national origin, which is closely linked to the ability to communicate proficiently in English,” according to HUD.

The Fair Housing Act also prohibits policies and practices when they have an unjustified discriminatory effect, even when the provider has not intended to discriminate. Determining whether a practice is discriminatory involves a three-step legal evaluation.

Any person who believes he or she has experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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