The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today announced it has charged the San Antonio Express-News and its parent company, Hearst Communications Inc., with violating the Fair Housing Act by accepting and publishing 42 ads for rental housing that excluded potential renters because of their race, religion, sex, national origin or familial status.

The HUD charge stems from an April 2002 complaint filed by the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio, one of many private, non-profit organizations funded by HUD through its Fair Housing Initiatives Program to investigate alleged violations of the Act. The San Antonio FHIP had been investigating possible violations of the Act by the paper since late 2000. Typical of the illegal ads, which ran between November 2000 and October 2002, were the following:

  • “WALZEN Area, Hispanic or White male pref., to share home…”

  • “2/1 House, Beautiful historic house, in Beacon Hill, See to apprec. No pets/children…”

“Some newspapers still do not understand their obligations even though the Fair Housing Act has been the law of the land for more than three decades,” said Carolyn Peoples, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. “HUD is committed to enforcing the nation’s fair housing laws, and we will act vigorously to keep peoples’ rights from being violated.”

A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on Oct. 5 in the San Antonio area, unless either the complainant or respondent elect to have the case decided by a federal judge in U.S. District Court. An election to go to trial in district court must be made by Aug. 9.

Housing discrimination charges heard before an ALJ carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense – more if the respondent has committed prior violations of the Act – plus actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees.

Should the case go to district court, either party may request a jury trial. A district court may award all of the damages available in an administrative proceeding, and may also award punitive damages.

In either forum, the case is brought on behalf of the complainant, and prosecuted by an attorney from either HUD of the U.S. Department of Justice. Also, each party has the right to be represented by their own attorney.

HUD is a federal agency that implements housing policy.

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