Disparate Impact – Stop with the Panic Bells, Already!


united-states-of-america-signAs you likely are aware, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down its ruling this week, affirming the validity of Disparate Impact Theory in Fair Housing cases. Immediately, some of my colleagues in the property management industry began ringing the panic bells. “This will change everything!” No, it won’t.

This is Nothing New!

HUD and DOJ have been using Disparate Impact Theory to prove fair housing cases for 40 years! All this SCOTUS decision did, was to uphold policies, rules, and practices that were already in place. This changes nothing. It simply affirms what has been the case for decades.

Let’s not panic, here. As housing providers, we should be leading the way as advocates for equal opportunity in housing, not ringing alarm bells over something we know little about (most of us), just because some of our colleagues are in panic mode.


For as long as I’ve been in this business, disparate impact has been a ‘thing.’ There are two ways to prove a fair housing case. You can either prove intention (very difficult!), or you can prove disparate impact.  It’s quite rare, these days, when you will hear a housing provider say something like, “We don’t rent to your kind!”  A statement like that would be intentional discrimination, and easily proven as such. In today’s climate, you’re much more likely to see discrimination delivered with a smile, a handshake, and a pat on the back… “We just rented that unit, but I think you’d like the place down the street…”


Before you panic over this SCOTUS decision, please take a few moments to study the Mount Holly case (never decided by SCOTUS – it settled), and the Texas case on which SCOTUS based its decision.  Then, read this memo by HUD and DOJ, so that you have a better understanding of how Disparate Impact theory actually works.


And, remember…this is not new.


As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Thanks for reading!