How a HUD Complaint Works

How a HUD Complaint Works

As REALTORS®, one of our core values is a commitment to fair housing. Not only are REALTORS® bound by federal and state fair housing laws, they are also under additional fair housing requirements imposed by the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Unfortunately, REALTORS® may nonetheless find themselves having to navigate the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s fair housing complaint process. 

This article and the accompanying illustration are intended to provide guidance about the HUD fair housing complaint process for informational purposes only. If a HUD complaint is filed against you, AAR strongly recommends consulting an attorney.



Step 1: A person contacts HUD with a report of discrimination. This can be done in person, online, or by telephone, fax, or mail. For information about how to file, click here. The person who makes the report is called the complainant.

Step 2: The report is given to a HUD Equal Opportunity Specialist (EOS), who determines if the report can move forward as a formal allegation.

  • The EOS has 20 days to review the report and decide if a formal complaint should be filed. The most important part of this process is determining if HUD has jurisdiction over the report under one of the laws HUD enforces. The EOS will also interview the complainant for more details, gather information like names and addresses of the people involved, and explain that complaints cannot be made anonymously. The EOS does not contact the respondent (the person who the complaint was made against) during this process.
  • There are 4 elements which are required for HUD to have jurisdiction over a report:
    • Standing: The complainant must be an “aggrieved person” as defined under the Fair Housing Act. In short, this means that the person making the report must have suffered some kind of adverse effect because of discrimination
    • Timeliness: The report must have been filed within one year of the most recent occurrence of the alleged discrimination.
    • Respondent Jurisdiction: The respondent must be covered by the Fair Housing Act. Exemptions under the Fair Housing Act include private individual owners, religious organizations, private clubs, and housing for older persons.
    • Subject Matter Jurisdiction: The complainant must give enough detail to show that unlawful discrimination occurred.
  • If all four requirements are met, the report is filed with HUD as a formal complaint. If the requirements are not met, the matter may be referred to another federal, state, or local agency, or it may be dismissed.

Step 3: HUD starts an investigation. The process begins with providing notice to both the complainant and the respondent. The respondent’s notice includes information about their duties and rights in the process. Next, HUD investigates the complaint. This can include interviewing those present (and anyone else who may have information about the alleged discrimination), obtaining documents, inspecting the properties in question, and more. The respondent also has a chance to respond to the complaint. At the end of the investigation, HUD issues a written report.

Step 4: At any point during the complaint process, the parties may resolve the complaint by submitting a voluntary agreement to HUD. HUD must approve the agreement for the complaint to be resolved.

Step 5: HUD issues a determination of whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the alleged discrimination occurred. If HUD believes that there is reasonable cause, HUD brings a Charge of Discrimination against the respondent.

Step 6: The parties each have 20 days to request that a civil trial about the Charge of Discrimination be held in federal district court.

Step 7: If neither party requests that the case be heard in federal district court, the case will remain within HUD and will be heard by an Administrative Law Judge[1] (ALJ).

  • About ALJs: Hearings before ALJs are held near the locality where the discrimination allegedly occurred. Each party has the right to appear in person with an attorney. Hearings are conducted in a similar manner to a trial, with cross examination of witnesses and discovery of evidence. ALJs can order compensation for damages as well as injunctive relief (e.g., making housing available to the complainant, requiring a respondent to stop a behavior, etc.).
  • About Civil Trials: If either party requests a civil trial, HUD forwards the case to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). DOJ files a lawsuit in the federal district court where the discrimination allegedly occurred. A federal district judge may issue the same punishments as an ALJ, as well as other types of money damages.

Step 8: The parties may have an opportunity to appeal. If the case was heard by an ALJ and the ALJ determines discrimination occurred, the respondent can appeal the decision to the Secretary of HUD. If an ALJ issues an order against a respondent, the respondent may appeal the decision to the Secretary of HUD. It is important to note that the Secretary of HUD is permitted to increase the punishment that the ALJ assigned. Finally, respondents have the right to appeal the Secretary of HUD’s decision to a federal circuit court of appeals. If the case was heard by a federal district court, the nonprevailing party may appeal the case to a federal court of appeals.

 [1]An Administrative Law Judge is a lawyer who hears cases dealing with specified areas of law which are governed by a particular federal agency. Administrative Law Judges are independent of the agency’s supervision and direction.

Please note that this article should not be considered legal advice. If you have received a HUD complaint, AAR recommends consulting with an attorney.

For more information from HUD regarding complaints, click here.

Recommended Reading: National Association of REALTORS, “What Everyone Should Know About Equal Opportunity Housing,” available here.