Vermont Fair Housing - Frequently Asked Questions
How much time do I have to file a fair housing complaint?
In order for the HRC to conduct an investigation, you must inform the Commission of your allegations within one year of the date of the fair housing violation. If you’re not sure, contact the HRC and we will determine if the time-period has expired.
Do I have to file a fair housing complaint with the HRC if I want to pursue a court case?
No. The HRC complaint investigation process is separate from a lawsuit in court, and complainants have a right to bring a court case without the HRC’s involvement or approval. However, there are strict timelines for when a lawsuit can be filed under state and federal fair housing laws so a person interested in filing a lawsuit should not wait to consult with an attorney about their rights.
What is the difference between the HRC and The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)?
HUD is a federal entity that enforces The Fair Housing Act, a federal law. The HRC receives a federal grant to review, investigate and litigate housing discrimination cases in Vermont. A case may be dually filed with both agencies. Some cases are not filed with HUD such as cases involving discrimination on the basis of public assistance.
What is the HRC process like?
Initial Complaint: HRC staff will receive complaint information over email, by phone, or in person. The HRC does not accept every case. If it does accept a case for an investigation, HRC staff can assist with drafting the complaint. . Once the complaint is signed by the complainant, HRC staff send it to the respondent(s) with a request to respond.
Investigation: Next, the complaint is assigned to an HRC Staff Attorney Investigator, who will gather information from the parties and witnesses. They will also conduct recorded interviews of the complainant, respondent, and relevant witnesses.
Conciliation: During an investigation of a complaint, the Staff Attorney Investigator will also assist the parties with conciliation (settlement) whenever the parties are interested in that. The parties may also choose to go to a mediation session with a professional mediator. Conciliation can happen any time during the HRC process.
Report: If the complaint is not settled between the parties, then the Staff Attorney Investigator will write an investigation report which summarizes the facts and analyzes the law. The report will make a preliminary recommendation about whether or not there are reasonable grounds to believe that discrimination occurred. The HRC sends the report to the parties, who have an opportunity to respond to the report.
Commission Meeting: The report and the parties’ responses are reviewed by the Commissioners of the HRC, who are appointed by the governor. They invite the parties to attend a hearing, where the parties can tell the Commissioners why they agree or disagree with the report and answer questions. After the hearing, the Commissioners make the final determination about whether or not there are reasonable grounds to be believe that discrimination occurred.
Post-Determination: If the Commissioners determine that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that discrimination occurred, then that is the end of the HRC process. If the Commissioners determine there are reasonable grounds, The HRC Executive Director then assists the parties in settling the case if possible. If the parties do not settle the case within six months of the determination, then the HRC may bring a fair housing law suit in Superior Court.
How long does an investigation take?
There is no exact timeframe set for how long an investigation may take. It can depend on different factors, including the complexity of the case and the cooperation of the parties. We strive to complete fair housing complaints within 100 days, but that is not often possible, and it can take up to a year or longer for some investigations to be completed.
What do I have to do during the HRC process?
If you are a party to a case, you must cooperate with the investigator by responding to calls or emails, producing requested documents or evidence, and participate in an interview. Failure to cooperate can mean an investigation is dismissed or a finding is made without your input.
Can I settle my case before an investigation is completed?
Absolutely. Many HRC cases settle before an investigation is completed, and our Staff Attorney Investigators are available to assist the parties with settlement conversations if requested. The parties can also go to mediation. Mediation is conducted by a neutral third party whose role is to assist the parties in reaching an agreement. The HRC may help pay for some of the cost of mediation.
Do I need an attorney for the HRC process?
No. Our process is designed to be fair to all parties regardless of whether or not they have attorneys. Please see our Guide for Complainants and Respondents.
Does the HRC represent me or the other party?
No. HRC Staff Attorney Investigators are neutral and may not favor either party in the investigation process. If and when there is a final determination that discrimination has occurred, the HRC may file a lawsuit in court asking for financial compensation for the complainant. But the HRC does not represent either party.
Is the complaint confidential?
The complainant and respondent (parties) can inspect the investigative file at reasonable times upon request. But members of the public do not have access to the intake, complaint files or investigative files. Only the investigative report that reaches a final determination of reasonable grounds becomes a public document. If the HRC files a lawsuit, some HRC documents may become part of the court file and therefore open to the public at that time.
What relief is available through the HRC process?
The HRC cannot order the parties to pay fines or fees or do anything specific.. We can assist the parties with a resolution by relaying information and facilitating settlement conversations. If there is a determination of reasonable grounds to believe that discrimination occurred, then the HRC may bring a fair housing lawsuit against the respondent(s) in Superior Court. This can result in financial awards, penalties, and attorney’s fees. The HRC may also ask the Court for an injunction to stop further discrimination.
Where can I find the text of the Vermont Fair Housing Act?
The Vermont Fair Housing Act is in Chapter 139 of Title 9 of the Vermont Statutes. The citation is 9 V.S.A. § 4500 et seq. You can find an online version of the entire chapter here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/fullchapter/09/139
Section 4503 of the Act lists “unfair housing practices.” That can be found here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/09/139/04503
Where can I find the rules governing the Human Rights Commission?
The law governing the Human Rights Commission is in Chapter 141 of Title 9 of the Vermont Statutes. The citation is 9 V.S.A. § 4551 et seq. You can find an online version of the entire HRC statute here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/fullchapter/09/141
The HRC also has rules about its processes. Those can be found here: https://hrc.vermont.gov/sites/hrc/files/laws/VHRC-Rules.pdf