Department of Justice files statement of interest on language access and housing

Earlier this month, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a statement of interest in a 2021 court case regarding language access and housing.

According to the plaintiff CNY Fair Housing, a nonprofit that advocates for tenants’ rights, an apartment complex in Syracuse refused to rent apartments to individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that the apartment complex’s owners have violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by restricting who can and cannot rent an apartment unit solely based on language abilities.

“These exclusionary policies may cause an unlawful disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act, and may be evidence of intentional discrimination based on national origin or race,” the statement of interest reads.

Because this case could have implications for the country’s wider LEP population, the DOJ released a statement of interest explaining the ways in which restricting LEP is a violation of the FHA. The statement of interest notes that roughly 13 million people in the country have LEP, most of whom are foreign-born. Because of this, the DOJ notes that the apartment complex’s alleged policy discriminates against individuals based on their national origin, a violation of the FHA.

“In light of these disparities, courts must closely scrutinize policies that exclude LEP families from housing opportunities, as such exclusions are likely to have a harsher impact on those born outside of the United States, as well as on Asian, Hispanic, and Black applicants,” the DOJ writes. 

According to the lawsuit, the apartment complex not only refused to rent to individuals with LEP, but also rejected potential renters who offered to work with an interpreter or translator through the leasing process. Because the FHA protects individuals from housing discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, the DOJ argues that restrictive policies regarding English proficiency violate the act.

Notably, the DOJ cites several past court cases in which judges ruled that renters could not discriminate on the basis of language proficiency. In the last year or so, some legislation has been proposed to improve language access with regards to housing, including a bill that would require bankers and lenders to work with translators when lending to LEP individuals.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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