Brief Fact Summary. Jancik, Petitioner, owns an apartment building, and ran an ad in a newspaper which was claimed by the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities to violate provisions of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The FHA is violated where an ad for housing suggests to an ordinary reader that a particular group is preferred or dispreferred for the housing in question, which may be proven by subjective evidence of the intent of the person who places the ad.
Petitioner Jancik owns Building No. 44 in King Arthur’s Court, a large housing complex in Chicago. King Arthur’s Court is home to people of all ages, including children, and all the apartments have one bedroom, but are large enough under the housing code to house more than one person. On August 29, 1990, Jancik placed the following ad in the newspaper: “NORTHLAKE deluxe 1BR apt a/c, newer quiet bldg, pool, prkg, mature person preferred, credit checked. $395. . .” Due to the inclusion of the words “mature person” in the ad, the Leadership Council’s Investigations manager decided to “test” the property by having “testers” using fictitious names pose as potential renters in order to check for discriminatory practices. Cindy Gunderson, a white person, and Marsha Allen, a black person, were chosen to test the property. Gunderson spoke with Jancik by telephone on September 7, 1990, and during the conversation related her age of 36, to which Jancik said, “good- he doesn’t want any te
enagers in there.” Then, when Jancik heard Gunderson’s last name and ethnic origin he inquired twice whether she was the white Norwegian or the black Norwegian. Gunderson asked Jancik is he was asking her about her race and Jancik said yes, to which Gunderson said she was white. The apartment was agreed to be shown the following day. Then Marsha Allen spoke with Jancik about the same apartment two hours later. Jancik asked about Allen’s age, martial status, race and whether she had any children or pets. Allen did not reveal her race but asked Jancik why he needed that information, to which Jancik responded that he was screening the applicants. Jancik agreed to show Allen the apartment the next morning, and when she and Gunderson showed up, they were separately told that the apartment had been rented. The Leadership Council filed an administrative complaint with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on May 22, 1991, wherein the Council alleged that Jancik had violated section 804(c) of t
he Fair Housing Act (FHA) which makes it unlawful to place an ad for the rental of a dwelling which indicates any preference as to race of family status. The Leadership Council contended that the ad run by Jancik indicated by reference to a “mature person” a preference based on both race and family status. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that Jancik had violated the FHA section and ordered damages to the Leadership Council of $21,386.14, to Marsha Allen of $2,000, assessed a civil penalty of $10,000, and enjoined Jancik from engaging in such acts in the future. Then, the Leadership Council filed a petition requesting attorneys’ fees of $23,842.50, which was granted by the ALJ. Jancik petitioned the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for a review of the ALJ’s orders.
Issue. Does Jancik’s ad violate the FHA provisions such that the words “mature person preferred” indicate a non-preference of a particular protected group?
Held. Yes. Petition for review denied.
The test for determining whether an ad indicates a preference or non-preference of a particular protected group under the FHA is that of the “ordinary reader.” The test is stated as “the statute is violated if an ad for housing suggests to an ordinary reader that a particular protected group is preferred or dispreferred for the housing in question.” The Court holds that this can be shown by subjective evidence of the intent of the person who places the ad.
The statements made by Jancik to Gunderson and Allen in the course of his conversations with them show that, by asking Gunderson’s race and asking about Allen’s family status, Jancik’s intent in the placement of the ad was to indicate a preference or non-preference for a particular type of person or group in violation of the FHA.
The fact that Jancik stated that he was screening applicants and that he asked Gunderson if she was a white Norwegian or a black Norwegian indicates his subjective intent to indicate a preference or non-preference for a particular group, even though he did not clearly state his preference.
Discussion. In this case, the court applied an objective test focussed on the content of the ad and looked to the conduct of Jancik in his conversations to provide the basis for their decision.