Wednesday, August 08, 2007

consumer/housing - rental housing - discrimination - ECOA and CPL

Portis v. River House Associates - MD Pa. - August 2, 2007

African-American plaintiffs were turned down for rental housing by Defendant, allegedly based on lack of credit history. They subsequently got rental housing from another landlord, who used same credit agency as Defendant allegedly used. Eventual landlord got a credit history, which was readily available. Plaintiffs sued under a) the Fair Housing Act, 42 USC 3601 et seq.; b) 42 USC 1981; c) 42 USC 1982; d) the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), 15 USC 1691 et seq.; and e) the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law, 73 PS 201-1 et seq. Defendant moved to dismiss the last two claims -- EDOA and Consumer Protection Law. The court agreed.

Equal Credit Opportunity Act - Citing Laramore v. Ritchie Realty, 397 F3d 544 (7th Cir. 2005), the ECOA claim was dismissed because

- it did not involve the extension of "credit," i.e. the right to defer the payment of a debt
- the ECOA was meant to protect against discrimination by financial institutions, not landlords
- a Federal Reserve regulation stating that the granting of a lease is not an extension of credit
- the ECOA interests could be protected in the FHA claim, which Defendant did not move to dismiss.

Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law
The court dismissed this claim, because the Plainiffs and Defendant never entered into a contract. Defendant rejected Plaintiff as a tenant. Plaintiffs found a new place to live. Plaintiffs did not purchase goods or services from Defendant. Calling this a case of first impression, the court held that the CPL does not permit suit by a person who leased property from one entity to bring suit against another entity from the which person initially attempted to lease property. The court noted that the CPL allows the Attorney General or county DA to bring suit, implicitly recognizing that there may be circumstances in which private actors are not permitted to bring suit but public officials can. The court also noted that while direct privity is not required under the CPL, the statute "does not stand for the proposition that a CPL claim can stand against a wholly unrelated party or one who is foreign to the purchase or lease transaction." In that sense, the CPL has a "causation requirement."