Disparate impact claim unavailable against public water utility for increasing the security deposit required of public housing tenants

The Ninth Circuit held, in Southwest Fair Housing Council, Inc. v. Maricopa Domestic Water Improvement Dist., 17 F.4 950 (5th Cir. 2021), that no violation of the Fair Housing Act occurred under a disparate impact theory when public housing tenants were required to pay a new higher security deposit to obtain water services from a public water utility. The court found a disparate impact against Black and Native American customers, as well as unmarried women with children and found that the plaintiffs had shown the utility’s actions caused the impact. However, the utility had a legitimate business justification for its actions that outweighed the disparate impact. Its justification was the public housing tenants tended to have unpaid utility bills in excess of its prior security deposit amount and that they had higher unpaid bills than tenants in private housing. Plaintiffs lost on the disparate impact issue because they could not prove that there was an alternative practice that would fully achieve the defendant’s legitimate business purpose in a less discriminatory manner.