Post-Acquisition Harassment and the Scope of the Fair Housing Act
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Because Halprin v. Prairie Single Family Homes of Dearborn Park Assn creates a split of circuit authority and threatens established civil rights protections, the Seventh Circuits decision provides a useful opportunity to reconsider the proper scope of the FHA. The subject of housing harassment, in general, has received significant scholarly attention in the recent past; however, no commentator has focused on the concept of post-acquisition harassment or evaluated the validity of the underlying assumption that the FHA does, in fact, protect against harassment occurring after housing has been secured. With the current schism in federal case law as a backdrop, and with incidents of violence, intimidation, and harassment targeting minorities in housing continuing today, this Article reconsiders the concept of housing discrimination and inquires whether there are solid legal and policy justifications to continue protecting post-acquisition harassment under the FHA. Part II briefly reviews several restrictive judicial interpretations of the FHAs scope, putting the Seventh Circuits Halprin decision in context. Part III then analyzes various arguments set forth by the Halprin court to limit the scope of the FHA. This analysis also tracks the basic framework used by the Supreme Court in its analysis of the FHA in Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., focusing on the text of the FHA, underlying congressional intent, and the applicability of Title VII to an interpretation of the FHA. Finally, Part IV considers two policy-based arguments bearing on whether the FHA should be read expansively to include a post-transaction dimension. Included in this discussion is a brief treatment of the role that post-acquisition harassment has played in the creation and maintenance of residential segregation. Ultimately, I reject the limiting arguments of the Seventh Circuit and conclude that the FHA is properly interpreted as encompassing claims not only of pre-access discrimination but also of harassment occurring after occupation begins.