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Can a Mobile Home Park Require U.S Citizenship?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 19, 2018 6:51 AM

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits refusing to sell, rent to, or even negotiate with any person because of that person's race, color, religion, sex, familial status, handicap, or national origin. But do those protections against national origin discrimination extend to foreign citizenship? And does a mobile home park's policy of requiring residents to prove they're legal U.S. residents violate the Act?

A recent lawsuit may answer those questions.

Homeward Bound

According to the lawsuit, the Waples Mobile Home Park in Fairfax, Virginia requires all residents over the age of 18 to provide documentation of their legal status before they move in or renew their leases. Latino residents filed a lawsuit in 2016, claiming the policy had a disparate impact on Latinos, because Latinos constitute 64.6 percent of the total undocumented immigrant population in Virginia and undocumented immigrants constitute 36.4 percent of the Latino population. Latino residents of the mobile home park alleged they were ten times more likely than non-Latinos to be adversely affected by the citizenship policy.

The suit was initially dismissed, with the court unpersuaded that the policy was instituted "because of" race or national origin. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that language in the Fair Housing Act focuses on the consequences of the discriminatory actions and policies rather than their intent. Based on initial evidence of disparate impact on Latino residents in the case, a Fourth Circuit Panel reinstated the lawsuit, saying, "Plaintiffs have satisfied their burden under step one of the burden-shifting framework to make a prima facie showing of disparate impact."

Bound for Trial

But there was some disagreement among the judges in the 2-1 opinion. Dissenting U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote the plaintiffs failed to allege facts that would satisfy the "robust causality" standard used in such cases, adding, "By holding that a policy targeting undocumented aliens could violate the FHA based on the policy's impact on Latinos, the majority in effect extends FHA protection to individuals based on their immigration status."

The majority argued the contrary. "Despite the dissent's assertions otherwise, our holding does not extend FHA protection to individuals based on immigration status," U.S. Circuit Judge Henry Floyd wrote, "nor does it even extend FHA protection to these Plaintiffs." Based on these statements, the Fair Housing Act may not prevent housing discrimination based on immigration status. However, if supposedly neutral policies have a disparate impact on a certain race or nationality, those policies may be illegal.

If you think a landlord has discriminated against you, contact an experienced landlord-tenant attorney for help.

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