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The Fair Housing Act was first passed in 1968, shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and it prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. Discrimination based on sex was added in 1974. When the law was comprehensively amended in 1988, it was changed to include discrimination against people because of disability and because of familial status - the presence of children under the age of 18.

The Fair Housing Act is enforced administratively by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). People who believe that they have been harmed by a violation of the Act may file administrative complaints with HUD, and HUD conducts an impartial investigation of the claims.

The Act also authorizes federal lawsuits by the U.S. Department of Justice, and private lawsuits that can be filed in federal or state courts by individuals. Many state and local fair housing enforcement agencies also have authority to investigate violations and bring enforcement actions. The general authority for all of these enforcement activities is found in the Fair Housing Act. So the enforcement authority given under the Act is quite broad.

Where violations of the law are established, remedies under the Fair Housing Act may include the award of compensatory damages to victims of discrimination, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, orders for comprehensive corrective action, and awards of punitive damages to victims or civil penalties to the government. In design and construction cases, remedies also may require retrofitting housing that has already been constructed to make it comply with the Act's design and construction requirements.

Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST has been contracted by HUD to provide information, materials, and technical assistance to all relevant stakeholders about the accessibility design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act as amended in 1988. However, Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST is not responsible for enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. The information, materials, and technical assistance are intended solely as informal guidance and are neither a determination of legal responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the Fair Housing Act.