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Introduced in Senate (02/26/1981)

Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1981 - Enacts into law the short titles "Civil Rights Act of 1968" and "Fair Housing Act".

Amends the Fair Housing Act to expand the definition of "discriminatory housing practice" to include any violation under such Act (thus codifying case law which holds that the obligation of Federal agencies to administer programs affirmatively to further the purposes of fair housing and the prohibition against interference with rights under the Act are separately actionable).

Adds new definitions of "handicap" and "aggrieved person". Excludes from the meaning of "handicap" any impairment consisting of alcohol or drug abuse which would be a direct threat to the property or safety of others.

Retains the two current exemptions from the prohibition against the discriminatory sale or rental of housing which are given to: (1) an owner of three or less single-family houses; and (2) the owner of a dwelling consisting of four or fewer family units who also resides in such dwelling (the "Mrs. Murphy" exemption).

Makes it unlawful to: (1) refuse to sell or rent to a handicapped person unless such handicap would prevent a prospective occupant from conforming to specified non-discrimination rules and practices; and (2) discriminate against a handicapped person in the conditions of sale or rental, or in the provision of related services or facilities. Includes within such discrimination a refusal to: (1) permit reasonable modifications to permit access to the premises (but only if a renter agrees to restore the premises to their original condition); and (2) make reasonable accommodations in policies, services, or facilities to afford handicapped persons equal enjoyment of the premises.

Stipulates that such discrimination shall not include a refusal to: (1) make alterations at the expense of sellers, landlords, owners, or persons acting on their behalf; (2) make modifications which would unreasonably inconvenience others; and (3) allow architectural modifications which materially decrease the value of a building or alter its intended use.

Makes it unlawful for an insurer to discriminate in the provision or terms of insurance against hazards to a dwelling because of the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, or national origin of persons owning or residing in or near the dwelling.

Adds handicapped persons as a protected class under other existing prohibitions on discriminatory activities.

Modifies the housing financing discrimination provision to prescribe all conduct which denies or "otherwise makes unavailable" financial assistance because of race, color, religion, handicap, or national origin. Includes with such prohibition persons in the business of selling, brokering, or appraising real property.

Establishes the Fair Housing Commission, composed of three members appointed by the President for staggered six-year terms. Stipulates that no more than two members may be of the same political party.

Directs the Commission to: (1) appoint administrative law judges and other employees as necessary to carry out its functions; (2) promulgate a code of ethics to assure the independence of such judges; (3) promulgate rules of discovery for its proceedings consistent insofar as practicable with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; and (4) consider appeals from the proposed orders of the administrative law judges upon application of a party.

Includes Federal agencies having regulatory authority over financial institutions within the executive departments and agencies which are currently required to administer their housing programs in an affirmative manner.

Authorizes the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide financial as well as technical assistance to public and private organizations seeking to remedy housing discrimination.

Establishes a new administrative enforcement procedure within the Department of Housing and Urban Development in addition to the current enforcement provisions of title VIII (allowing civil actions by private parties and the Attorney General).

Directs the Secretary to make an investigation of all alleged discriminatory housing practices on his or her own initiative or upon the filing of a charge by an aggrieved person within one year of the alleged discrimination. Requires the Secretary to attempt to correct the discriminatory practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion. Requires the Secretary, if the aggrieved person and respondent consent to binding arbitration, to refer the charge to an arbitrator made available by the Community Relations Service of the Department of Justice.

Continues the current authority of the Secretary to utilize discovery measures. Retains the current penalty for failing to produce information (up to a $1,000 fine and/or one year's imprisonment).

Makes certain changes in the current requirements for referring charges to State or local agencies for investigation and enforcement. (Specifies, with respect to the rights and remedies provided by such agencies, the elements of "substantial equivalency" which permits certification and referrals of discrimination charges. Eliminates the Secretary's authority to recall referrals in the interest of justice or to protect the rights of the parties. Prohibits further action by the Secretary unless the agency fails to act in a timely fashion (current law gives the agency 30 days to commence proceedings).

Requires the Secretary and other Federal agencies to cooperate to avoid duplication of their housing discrimination authority. Authorizes the Secretary to enter into agreements to permit other agencies to carry out such responsibilities within their jurisdictions. Directs the Secretary to enter into agreements with specified Federal agencies for such purpose with respect to depository institutions.

Permits an action for temporary or preliminary relief to be brought on behalf of the Secretary in accordance with rule 65 of the Federal rules of Civil Procedure when the Secretary establishes that voluntary compliance is unobtainable and prompt judicial action is necessary.

Permits the Secretary to file an administrative complaint or refer the matter to the Attorney General for civil action if the investigation supports a finding of reasonable cause, except with respect to matters involving land use controls, which must be referred.

Specifies the hearing procedures to be utilized if an administrative complaint is issued. Permits the administrative law judge to award appropriate relief and a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

Permits the filing of a petition for judicial review of a final order in an appropriate court of appeals within 60 days after entry of such order. Provides that the findings of fact shall be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence in the record considered as a whole.

Authorizes the administrative law judge to assess civil penalties for noncompliance with a final administrative order.

Makes certain revisions in the private right of action for aggrieved persons under the Fair Housing Act. Extends the statute of limitations from 180 days to two years. Disallows simultaneous administrative and judicial proceedings involving the same charge. Permits the Attorney General to intervene upon certification that the civil action is of general public importance. Continues the current provision permitting the appointment of counsel. Removes the existing $1,000 limit on punitive damages for willful violations.

Continues the authority of the Attorney General to initiate civil actions where there is reasonable cause to believe that a pattern or practice of resistance to title VIII rights has occurred. Permits the intervention of aggrieved persons in such actions.

Permits the award of costs, including reasonable attorney fees, to prevailing parties in court and administrative proceedings (current law permits an award of attorney's fees only to prevailing parties who are financially unable to assume them).

Directs the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to report to Congress on the need for and cost of retrofitting housing for handicapped persons.

Authorizes appropriations for this Act, effective October 1, 1981.