Justice Department Files Statement of Interest in Fair Housing Act Case Alleging Unlawful Exclusion of Tenants Who Do Not Speak English

5 mins read
FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – The Justice Department filed a Statement of Interest today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York explaining how policies that exclude rental housing applicants because they do not speak English may violate the Fair Housing Act. 

The Statement of Interest was filed in CNY Fair Housing v. Swiss Village LLC, et al., a lawsuit alleging that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by refusing to rent apartments to applicants who are limited English proficient (LEP) unless someone who speaks and reads English lives in the unit.  The defendants own and manage apartments in Dewitt, New York.  The lawsuit further alleges that the defendants refused the applicants’ offers to bring their own interpreters to translate lease documents and assist with communications.   

“Refusing to rent to people who do not speak English makes finding safe and affordable housing especially hard for people who come to the United States from countries where English is not the primary language,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “When housing providers ban prospective tenants who do not speak English well, their actions may violate the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin, race and other protected characteristics. As we celebrate Fair Housing Month, the Department of Justice underscores its commitment to fighting for fair housing across our nation and ensuring that housing providers respect the federal civil rights of people who do not read or speak English fluently.”

“The right to housing is fundamental to full participation in society,” said U.S. Attorney Carla Freedman for the Northern District of New York. “When landlords engage in practices or enact policies that disparately impact people who have come to America from non-English speaking countries, these actions must be strictly scrutinized for potential violations of the Fair Housing Act.  My office is proud to partner with the Civil Rights Division in regard to this matter.”

“HUD commends the Justice Department for pursuing the housing rights of those who call America home,” said Demetria L. McCain, HUD’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Relying on recent Census data, CNY Fair Housing’s complaint alleges that the defendants’ LEP exclusion policy imposes an unjustified disparate impact on the basis of national origin and race.  The complaint also alleges that the defendants’ restrictive language policy was a pretext to discriminate against applicants based on their national origin and race. 

Among its protections, the FHA prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of national origin or race. The Statement of Interest explains how a restrictive language policy may violate the FHA when it has a disparate impact or is used as a proxy or pretext for discrimination based on national origin or race, as alleged in plaintiff’s complaint. It also discusses how the plaintiff’s allegations are consistent with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Guidance on Fair Housing Act Protections for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, which clarifies how restrictive language policies may run afoul of the FHA. 

CNY Fair Housing v. Swiss Village et al. was filed in the Northern District of New York in November 2021. The defendants have moved to have the case dismissed. CNY Fair Housing opposes that motion, and the Justice Department’s Statement of Interest agrees that dismissal of the complaint would be inappropriate. The motion is now pending before the court.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status (having one or more children under 18), national origin and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt.


Individuals who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination submit a report online at www.civilrights.justice.gov. Such individuals also may contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or by filing a complaint online.