Havens Realty v. Coleman: U.S. Supreme Court Reviews Parties' Standing to Sue Under Fair Housing Act
In Havens Realty v. Coleman, the Supreme Court addressed standing under the Fair Housing Act (Act), and the proper construction of section 812(a) of the Act, which imposes a 180-day statute of limitations. The Court held that individuals and housing organizations have standing to sue, and that where fair housing violations are continuous, the 180-day statute of limitations runs from the date of the last occurrence of discrimination.
Coles, a black person, attempted to rent an apartment from Havens Realty (Havens) and was falsely told that that no apartments were available. Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a non-profit housing opportunity organization, sent "testers" to determine whether Havens was practicing racial steering. Coleman, a black tester, was told that no apartments were available, while Willis, a white tester, was told that there were vacancies.
Coles, HOME, Coleman, and Willis brought a class action lawsuit against Havens, alleging that its racial steering practices violated the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit also alleged that Havens' practices deprived the individual plaintiffs of important social, professional, business and economic, political and aesthetic benefits of interracial associations that arise from living in integrated communities free from discriminatory housing practices. Further, the plaintiffs claimed that Havens' steering practices frustrated HOME's activities regarding housing counseling and referral services, and that the practices were a drain on its financial resources.
The district court dismissed the claims of Coleman, Willis, and HOME, holding that they lacked standing and that their claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The court heard Coles' case and found that Havens engaged in unlawful racial steering. As a result, the court entered a consent order establishing a fund to provide damages for claimants. However, because the claims of Coleman, Willis, and HOME were dismissed, they could not collect from the fund.
Coleman, Willis, and HOME appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which reversed the district court, holding that the allegations of injury were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. The Fourth Circuit also held that the claims were not time barred because Havens' conduct constituted a "continuing violation" lasting through the time of the alleged Coles incident, which was within the 180-day period. The court also ruled that Coleman and Willis had standing to sue in their capacities as testers and as individuals. Havens appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit insofar as it directed that Coleman and Willis could proceed with their tester claims. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Circuit properly held that the steering practices of Havens deprived Coleman and Willis of the benefits of interracial association. Further, the Supreme Court found that HOME had standing to sue for damages in its own right. Regarding the statute of limitations issue, the Court reasoned that "where a plaintiff, pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, challenges one, but many unlawful practices that continue into the limitations period, the complaint is timely when it is filed within 180 days of the last asserted occurrence of that practice."
Havens Realty v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 102 S. Ct. 1114 (1982).