HUD accuses Facebook of housing discrimination

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facebook-dislike-thumb.jpgThe U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced last week that it has filed a civil complaint against Facebook, Inc. alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act as a result of Facebook’s ad-targeting system. Twitter, Inc. and Google have been notified that their similar practices are under scrutiny.

Facebook’s ad-targeting system allows advertisers the ability to direct messages to target audiences with precision.  HUD charges this system has allowed real estate companies to unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, nationality, religion, color familial status, sex and disability.

The complaint alleges Facebook is guilty of “encouraging, enabling and causing” unlawful discrimination when it allows advertisers to exclude users by certain characteristics, for example, whether they are interested in Hispanic culture and food, whether they are parents and whether they are non-citizens or non-Christians. Some ads are only shown to women. Other ads may exclude neighborhoods or geographic areas like ZIP codes. Secretary of HUD Ben Carson said using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in that person’s face.

HUD alleges Facebook mines users’ extensive personal data and uses characteristics protected by law to determine who can view housing ads.

This is not the first time Facebook has been in trouble for ad-targeting. An earlier investigation by ProPublica found the advertising practices acted to exclude African American, Latinos and Asian Americans. HUD had filed an earlier complaint last August alleging ethnic groups were excluded from viewing some ads. Facebook took action by removing 5,000 ad target options.

The ACLU was not happy with that result and filed a lawsuit. That lawsuit was settled recently with Facebook announcing substantial changes to its platform including withholding a wide array of demographic information often used as indicators of race. Facebook also agreed to create a tool that would allow users to search for housing ads whether or not the ads could be viewed in individual news feeds.

HUD was apparently dissatisfied with the settlement as not going far enough to remedy housing discrimination and responded with the current complaint.

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SC Real Estate Lawyers: Prepare To Advise Clients Struck By Disaster

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 _SC Flood 2015Our hearts are breaking for our family members, friends and neighbors who have lost so much in this flooding disaster. Charleston and Columbia and the boroughs, towns, cities and counties between will rebuild, but it will take time, resources and patience. Many have lost everything and are without insurance coverage because flooding was so unexpected in many areas. Many are without power and water. Many are in shock. And we are being told the flooding will get worse before it gets better.

For those of us old enough to remember, this disaster feels incredibly like the aftermath of hurricane Hugo in 1989. As I think back to the beautiful areas in South Carolina that were hardest hit then and reflect on those areas today, it seems that almost all of them are better and stronger and more beautiful than they were before the disaster. South Carolinians are strong and resilient, and we are stronger today than we were yesterday.

Dirt lawyers are in an exceptional position to support clients who are not familiar with the assistance that may be available to them. I challenge each of us to educate ourselves to be available to offer the valuable advice that will be needed in the days, weeks and months to come. I am not knowledgeable on these topics at this point, but I am beginning to learn today and will pass information along via this blog. If anyone already has a wealth of information and is comfortable with sharing it, please pass it along to me, and I will get it out. Here are a few points I’ve learned so far.

_SC Flood 2015 2The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that federal emergency aid has been made available to areas affected. President Obama authorized FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts and to identify, mobilize and provide, at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. W. Michael Moore has been named the Federal Coordinating Officer for the federal response operations in the affected area. For more information, go to www.fema.gov.

Governor Hailey has announced that South Carolina will act closely with the federal government to protect the citizens of South Carolina. At this point, the State is dealing with road closures, emergency responses, and water power issues, but announcements are already being made about disaster relief. We should all remain vigilant about ways our clients may obtain assistance.

Clients should begin now to make inventories and take pictures of damage. FEMA teams are on the ground now and will (slowly) begin to work with individuals and businesses. Clients should get in touch with their insurers as soon as possible.

Those with mortgages should contact lenders who may provide relief in the form of loan modifications, restructuring, temporary suspension or reduction in payments, waivers of late payments and/or suspending delinquency reporting to credit bureaus. To begin researching some of the options your clients may have, check out Fannie Mae’s site: http://knowyouroptions.com and Freddie Mac’s site: https://ww3.freddiemac.com. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of FHA-insured home mortgages following natural disasters as long as the property is:

  • within the boundaries of a presidentially declared disaster area, and
  • the property was directly affected by the disaster.

The time period may be extended if:

  • the disaster affects a large area, or
  • is especially severe.

If a client’s property was not damaged by the disaster, but the disaster did affect his or her financial viability, your client might also qualify for a moratorium.

During times of natural disasters, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) encourages lenders and servicers to:

  • establish a 90-day moratorium on initiating new foreclosures, and
  • help individuals affected by a natural disaster by offering forbearance or modification of veterans’ loans.

Advise clients to gather information like credit reports, proofs of employment and income.

_SC Flood 2015 3Unfortunately, some clients may need to be advised to contact a bankruptcy lawyer. Chapters 7, 11 or 13 may be alternatives that should be considered, depending on circumstances. I always tell real estate lawyers that they should know just enough bankruptcy law to know when to call in a bankruptcy practitioner. This may be one of those times for numerous clients.

Let’s rise to this occasion, real estate practitioners, and provide the best advice we can for our clients who are in dire need at this time.