2007 Regular Session
To: Judiciary A
By: Representative Perkins
AN ACT ENTITLED THE "MISSISSIPPI FAIR HOUSING ACT"; TO PROVIDE DEFINITIONS; TO MAKE IT UNLAWFUL TO REFUSE TO SELL OR RENT AFTER THE MAKING OF A BONA FIDE OFFER AND TO PROHIBIT CERTAIN OTHER PRACTICES RELATING TO THE SALE OR RENTAL OF A DWELLING; TO PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION IN THE PROVISION OF BROKERAGE SERVICES; TO PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION IN THE FINANCING OF HOUSING OR IN RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS; TO PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION IN LAND USE DECISIONS AND IN PERMITTING OF DEVELOPMENT; TO PROVIDE EXEMPTIONS FROM THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ACT; TO ESTABLISH THE MISSISSIPPI FAIR HOUSING COMMISSION AND PROVIDE FOR ITS MEMBERSHIP; TO PRESCRIBE THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE COMMISSION; TO AUTHORIZE THE COMMISSION TO MAKE INVESTIGATIONS OF VIOLATIONS OF THIS ACT AND TO ISSUE SUBPOENAS AND ADMINISTER OATHS; TO PROVIDE A COMPLAINT PROCEDURE; TO AUTHORIZE THE COMMISSION TO COMMENCE CIVIL ACTIONS TO PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATORY HOUSING PRACTICES; TO PROVIDE FOR VOLUNTARY COMPLIANCE AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES; TO PROVIDE THAT AN AGGRIEVED PARTY MAY FILE A CIVIL ACTION AGAINST A RESPONDENT WHO DOES NOT COMPLY WITH THIS ACT; TO PROVIDE FOR CONCILIATION AGREEMENTS; TO AUTHORIZE THE COURT TO IMPOSE CIVIL FINES FOR NONCOMPLIANCE WITH THIS ACT; TO PROHIBIT INTERFERENCE IN THE EXERCISE OF THE RIGHTS GRANTED UNDER THIS ACT; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Short title. This act may be cited as the "Fair Housing Act."
SECTION 2. State policy on fair housing. It is the policy of this state to provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the state.
SECTION 3. Definitions. As used in this act, the term:
(a) "Commission" means the Mississippi Commission on Fair Housing.
(b) "Covered multifamily dwelling" means:
(i) A building which consists of four (4) or more units; or
(ii) The ground floor units of a building which consists of four (4) or more units.
(c) "Discriminatory housing practice" means an act that is unlawful under the terms of this act.
(d) "Dwelling" means any building, structure or portion thereof, which is occupied as, or designed or intended for occupancy as, a residence by one or more families, and any vacant land which is offered for sale or lease for the construction or location on the land of any such building or structure, or portion thereof.
(e) "Familial status" is established when an individual who has not attained the age of eighteen (18) years is domiciled with:
(i) A parent or other person having legal custody of such individual; or
(ii) A designee of a parent or other person having legal custody, with the written permission of such parent or other person.
(f) "Family" includes a single individual.
(g) "Handicap" means a person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, or he or she has a record of having, or is regarded as having, such physical or mental impairment.
(h) "Person" includes one or more individuals, corporations, partnerships, associations, labor organizations, legal representatives, mutual companies, joint-stock companies, trusts, unincorporated organizations, trustees, trustees in bankruptcy, receivers and fiduciaries.
(i) "Substantially equivalent" means an administrative subdivision of the State of Mississippi meeting the requirements of the Federal Fair Housing Act.
(j) "To rent" includes to lease, to sublease, to let, and otherwise to grant for a consideration the right to occupy premises not owned by the occupant.
SECTION 4. Discrimination in the sale or rental of housing and other prohibited practices. (1) It is unlawful to refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise to make unavailable or deny a dwelling to any person because of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status or religion.
(2) It is unlawful to discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status or religion.
(3) It is unlawful to make, print or publish, or cause to be made, printed or published, any notice, statement or advertisement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation or discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status, or religion or an intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination.
(4) It is unlawful to represent to any person because of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status or religion that any dwelling is not available for inspection, sale or rental when such dwelling is in fact so available.
(5) It is unlawful, for profit, to induce or attempt to induce any person to sell or rent any dwelling by a representation regarding the entry or prospective entry into the neighborhood of person or persons of a particular race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status or religion.
(6) The protections afforded against discrimination on the basis of familial status apply to any person who is pregnant or is in the process of securing legal custody of any individual who has not attained the age of eighteen (18) years.
(7) It is unlawful to discriminate in the sale or rental of, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of:
(a) That buyer or renter;
(b) A person residing in or intending to reside in that dwelling after it is sold, rented or made available; or
(c) Any person associated with the buyer or renter.
(8) It is unlawful to discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of a handicap of:
(a) That buyer or renter;
(b) A person residing in or intending to reside in that dwelling after it is sold, rented or made available; or
(c) Any person associated with the buyer or renter.
(9) Discrimination or because of a handicap includes:
(a) A refusal to permit, at the expense of the handicapped person, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises; or
(b) A refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
(10) Covered multifamily dwellings as defined herein which are intended for first occupancy after June 1, 2006, shall be designed and constructed to have at least one (1) building entrance on an accessible route unless it is impractical to do so because of the terrain or unusual characteristics of the site as determined by commission rule. Such buildings shall also be designed and constructed in such a manner that:
(a) The public use and common use portions of such dwellings are readily accessible to and usable by handicapped persons.
(b) All doors designed to allow passage into and within all premises within such dwellings are sufficiently wide to allow passage by a person in a wheelchair.
(c) All premises within such dwellings contain the following features of adaptive design:
(i) An accessible route into and through the dwelling.
(ii) Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations.
(iii) Reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars.
(iv) Usable kitchens and bathrooms such that a person in a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.
(d) Compliance with the appropriate requirements of the American National Standards Institute for buildings and facilities providing accessibility and usability for physically handicapped people, commonly cited as ANSI A117.1-1986, suffices to satisfy the requirements of paragraph (c).
State agencies with building construction regulation responsibility or local governments, as appropriate, shall review the plans and specifications for the construction of covered multifamily dwellings to determine consistency with the requirements of this subsection.
SECTION 5. Discrimination in the provision of brokerage services. It is unlawful to deny any person access to, or membership or participation in, any multiple-listing service, real estate brokers' organization, or other service, organization, or facility relating to the business of selling or renting dwellings, or to discriminate against him or her in the terms or conditions of such access, membership or participation, on account of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status or religion.
SECTION 6. Discrimination in the financing of housing or in residential real estate transactions. (1) It is unlawful for any bank, building and loan association, insurance company or other corporation, association, firm or enterprise the business of which consists in whole or in part of the making of commercial real estate loans to deny a loan or other financial assistance to a person applying for the loan for the purpose of purchasing, constructing, improving, repairing or maintaining a dwelling, or to discriminate against him or her in the fixing of the amount, interest rate, duration, or other term or condition of such loan or other financial assistance, because of the race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status, or religion of such person or of any person associated with him or her in connection with such loan or other financial assistance or the purposes of such loan or other financial assistance, or because of the race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status, or religion of the present or prospective owners, lessees, tenants, or occupants of the dwelling or dwellings in relation to which such loan or other financial assistance is to be made or given.
(2) (a) It is unlawful for any person or entity whose business includes engaging in residential real estate transactions to discriminate against any person in making available such a transaction, or in the terms or conditions of such a transaction, because of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status or religion.
(b) As used in this subsection, the term "residential real estate transaction" means any of the following:
(i) The making or purchasing of loans or providing other financial assistance:
1. For purchasing, constructing, improving, repairing or maintaining a dwelling; or
2. Secured by residential real estate.
(ii) The selling, brokering or appraising of residential real property.
SECTION 7. Prohibited discrimination in land use decisions and in permitting of development. It is unlawful to discriminate in land use decisions or in the permitting of development based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, familial status, religion, or, except as otherwise provided by law, the source of financing of a development or proposed development.
SECTION 8. Exemptions. (1) (a) Nothing in this act applies to:
(i) Any single-family house sold or rented by its owner, provided such private individual owner does not own more than three (3) single-family houses at any one time. In the case of the sale of a single-family house by a private individual owner who does not reside in such house at the time of the sale or who was not the most recent resident of the house prior to the sale, the exemption granted by this paragraph applies only with respect to one (1) sale within any twenty-four-month period. In addition, the bona fide private individual owner shall not own any interest in, nor shall there be owned or reserved on his or her behalf, under any express or voluntary agreement, title to, or any right to all or a portion of the proceeds from the sale or rental of, more than three (3) single-family houses at any one time. The sale or rental of any single-family house shall be excepted from the application of only if the house is sold or rented:
1. Without the use in any manner of the sales or rental services of any real estate licensee or such facilities or services of any person in the business of selling or renting dwellings, or of any employee or agent of any such licensee or person; and
2. With the publication, posting or mailing, after notice, of any advertisement or written notice in violation of federal law.
Nothing in this provision prohibits the use of attorneys, escrow agents, abstractors, title companies, and other such professional assistance as is necessary to perfect or transfer the title.
(ii) Rooms or units in dwellings containing living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by no more than four (4) families living independently of each other, if the owner actually maintains and occupies one of such living quarters as his or her residence.
(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a), a person is deemed to be in the business of selling or renting dwellings if the person:
(i) Has, with the preceding twelve (12) months, participated as principal in three (3) or more transactions involving the sale or rental of any dwelling or interest therein;
(ii) Has, within the preceding twelve (12) months, participated as agent, other than in the sale of his or her own personal residence, in providing sales or rental facilities or sales or rental services in two (2) or more transactions involving the sale or rental of any dwelling or interest therein; or
(iii) Is the owner of any dwelling designed or intended for occupancy by, or occupied by, five (5) or more families.
(2) Nothing in this act prohibits a religious organization, association or society, or any controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, from limiting the sale, rental or occupancy of any dwelling which it owns or operates for other than a commercial purpose to persons of the same religion or from giving preference to such persons, unless membership in such religion is restricted on account of race, color or national origin. Nothing in this act prohibits a private club not in fact open to the public, which as an incident to its primary purpose or purposes provides lodgings which it owns or operates for other than a commercial purpose, from limiting the rental or occupancy of such lodgings to its members or from giving preference to its members.
(3) Nothing in this act requires any person renting or selling a dwelling constructed for first occupancy before June 1, 2006, to modify, alter or adjust the dwelling in order to provide physical accessibility except as otherwise required by law.
(4) (a) Any provision of this act regarding familial status does not apply with respect to housing for older persons.
(b) As used in this subsection, the term "housing for older persons" means housing:
(i) Provided under any state or federal program that the commission determines is specifically designed and operated to assist elderly persons, as defined in the state or federal program;
(ii) Intended for, and solely occupied by, persons sixty-two (62) years of age or older; or
(iii) Intended and operated for occupancy by persons fifty-five (55) years of age or older that meets the following requirements:
1. At least eighty percent (80%) of the occupied units are at least one person fifty-five (55) years of age or older.
2. The housing facility or community publishes and adheres to policies and procedures that demonstrate the intent required under this item. If the housing facility or community meets the requirements of items 1 and 2 and the recorded governing documents provide for an adult, senior or retirement housing facility or community and the governing documents lack an amendatory procedure, prohibit amendments, or restrict amendments until a specified future date, then that housing facility or community shall be deemed housing for older persons intended and operated for occupancy by persons fifty-five (55) years of age or older. If those documents further provide a prohibition against residents sixteen (16) years of age or younger, that provision shall be construed, for purposes of the Fair Housing Act, to only apply to residents eighteen (18) years of age or younger, in order to conform with federal law requirements. Governing documents which can be amended at a future date must be amended and properly recorded within one (1) year after that date to reflect the requirements for consideration as housing for older persons, if that housing facility or community intends to continue as housing for older persons.
3. The housing facility or community complies with rules made by the Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development pursuant to 24 CFR part 100 for verification of occupancy, which rules provide for verification by reliable surveys and affidavits and include examples of the types of policies and procedures relevant to a determination of compliance with the requirements of item 2. Such surveys and affidavits are admissible in administrative and judicial proceedings for the purposes of such verification.
(c) Housing shall not fail to be considered housing for older persons if:
(i) A person who resides in such housing on or after July 1, 2006, does not meet the age requirements of this subsection, provided that any new occupant meets such age requirements; or
(ii) One or more units are unoccupied, provided that any unoccupied units are reserved for occupancy by persons who meet the age requirements of this subsection.
(d) A person shall not be personally liable for monetary damages for a violation of this subsection if such person reasonably relied in good faith on the application of the exemption under this subsection relating to housing for older persons. For purposes of this paragraph, a person may show good faith reliance on the application of the exemption only by showing that:
(i) The person has no actual knowledge that the facility or the community is ineligible, or will become ineligible, for such exemption; and
(ii) The facility or community has stated formally, in writing, that the facility or community complies with the requirements for such exemption.
(e) A facility or community claiming an exemption under this subsection shall register with the commission and submit a letter to the commission stating that the facility or community complies with the requirements of paragraph (b)(i), paragraph (b)(ii) or paragraph (b)(iii). The letter shall be submitted on the letterhead of the facility or community and shall be signed by the president of the facility or community. This registration and documentation shall be renewed biennially from the date of original filing. The information in the registry shall be made available to the public, and the commission shall include this information on an Internet Web site. The commission may establish a reasonable registration fee, not to exceed Twenty Dollars ($20.00), which shall be deposited into the commission's trust fund to defray the administrative costs associated with maintaining the registry. The commission may impose an administrative fine, not to exceed Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), on a facility or community that knowingly submits false information in the documentation required by this paragraph. Such fines shall be deposited in the commission's trust fund. The registration and documentation required by this paragraph shall not substitute for proof of compliance with the requirements of this subsection. Failure to comply with the requirements of this paragraph shall not disqualify a facility or community that otherwise qualifies for the exemption provided in this subsection.
A county or municipal ordinance regarding housing for older persons may not contravene the provisions of this subsection.
(5) Nothing in this act:
(a) Prohibits a person engaged in the business of furnishing appraisals of real property from taking into consideration factors other than race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status or religion.
(b) Limits the applicability of any reasonable local restriction regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling.
(c) Requires that a dwelling be made available to an individual whose tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.
(d) Prohibits conduct against a person because such person has been convicted by any court of competent jurisdiction of the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance as defined in Section 41-29-101 et seq.
SECTION 9. (1) There is hereby created a commission to be known as the Mississippi Fair Housing Commission, consisting of three (3) members. The Governor shall appoint the members of the commission, by and with the consent of the Mississippi State Senate, one (1) for a term of two (2) years, one (1) for a term of four (4) years, and one (1) for a term of six (6) years. Upon the expiration of each term as above set forth, the Governor shall appoint a successor for a term of six (6) years, and thereafter the term of office of each commissioner shall be for six (6) years. One (1) member shall be a person who by reason of his previous vocation or affiliation can be classed as a representative of the housing industry, and one (1) member shall be a person who by reason of his previous vocation or affiliation can be classed as a representative of housing consumers. One (1) member shall be an attorney at law of recognized ability with at least five (5) years' active practice in Mississippi prior to his appointment. The Governor shall designate the chairman of the commission, whose term of chairman shall run concurrently with his appointment as a commissioner.
The chairman shall be the administrative head of the commission and shall have the final authority in all matters relating to assignment of cases for hearing and trial and the administrative work of the commission and its employees, except in the promulgation of rules and regulations wherein the commission shall act as a body, and in the trial and determination of cases as otherwise provided.
Upon the expiration of the term of a commissioner, he shall continue to serve until his successor has been appointed. Because cumulative experience is conspicuously essential to the proper administration of a fair housing law, it is declared to be in the public interest to continue fair housing commissioners in office as long as efficiency is demonstrated. A commissioner may be removed for cause prior to the expiration of his term, but shall be furnished a written copy of the charges against him and shall be accorded a public hearing.
Each member of the commission and each administrative law judge shall receive an annual salary fixed by the State Personnel Board.
(2) A vacancy in the commission, if there remain two (2) members of it, shall not impair the authority of such two (2) members to act. In case of illness or continued absence for other reasons, the same authority of such two (2) members shall apply.
(3) The office of the commission shall be situated in the City of Jackson, Mississippi, but hearings may be held at such places as it may deem most convenient for the proper and speedy performance of its duties. The commission is authorized, if it deems it necessary for the convenient and efficient dispatch of business, to lease office space and facilities in other than publicly-owned buildings.
SECTION 10. Administration. (1) The authority and responsibility for administering this act is in the commission.
(2) The commission may delegate any of its functions, duties and powers to its employees, including functions, duties and powers with respect to investigating, conciliating, hearing, determining, ordering, certifying, reporting or otherwise acting as to any work, business or matter.
SECTION 11. Powers and duties of commission. The commission shall:
(a) Make studies with respect to the nature and extent of discriminatory housing practices in representative urban, suburban and rural communities throughout the state.
(b) Publish and disseminate reports, recommendations and information derived from such studies.
(c) Cooperate with and render technical assistance to public or private agencies, organizations and institutions within the state which are formulating or carrying on programs to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices.
(d) Administer the programs and activities relating to housing in a manner affirmatively to further the policies of state and federal law.
(e) Adopt rules necessary to implement the act and govern the proceedings of the commission in accordance with the Mississippi Administrative Procedures Act. Commission rules shall clarify terms used with regard to handicapped accessibility, exceptions from accessibility requirements based on terrain or site characteristics, and requirements related to housing for older persons. Commission rules shall specify the fee and the forms and procedures to be used for the registration.
SECTION 12. Investigations; subpoenas; oaths. (1) In conducting an investigation, the commission shall have access at all reasonable times to premises, records, documents, individuals and other evidence or possible sources of evidence and may examine, record and copy such materials and take and record the testimony or statements of such persons as are reasonably necessary for the furtherance of the investigation, provided the commission first complies with the provisions of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 relating to unreasonable searches and seizures. The commission may issue subpoenas to compel its access to or the production of such materials or the appearance of such persons, and may issue interrogatories to a respondent, to the same extent and subject to the same limitations as would apply if the subpoenas or interrogatories were issued or served in aid of a civil action in court. The commission may administer oaths.
(2) Upon written application to the commission, a respondent shall be entitled to the issuance of a reasonable number of subpoenas by and in the name of the commission to the same extent and subject to the same limitations as subpoenas issued by the commission itself. A subpoena issued at the request of a respondent shall show on its face the name and address of such respondent and shall state that it was issued at his or her request.
(3) Within five (5) days after service of a subpoena upon any person, such person may petition the commission to revoke or modify the subpoena. The commission shall grant the petition if it finds that the subpoena requires appearance or attendance at an unreasonable time or place, that it requires production of evidence which does not relate to any matter under investigation, that it does not describe with sufficient particularity the evidence to be produced, or that compliance would be unduly onerous or for other good reason.
(4) In case of refusal to obey a subpoena, the commission or the person at whose request the subpoena was issued may petition for its enforcement in the circuit court for the county in which the person to whom the subpoena was addressed resides, was served, or transacts business.
(5) Witnesses summoned by subpoena of the commission shall be entitled to the same witness and mileage fees as are witnesses in proceedings in court. Fees payable to a witness summoned by a subpoena issued at the request of a respondent shall be paid by the respondent.
SECTION 13. Enforcement. (1) Any person who claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice or who believes that he or she will be injured by a discriminatory housing practice that is about to occur may file a complaint with the commission. Complaints shall be in writing and shall contain such information and be in such form as the commission requires. Upon receipt of such a complaint, the commission shall furnish a copy to the person or persons who allegedly committed the discriminatory housing practice or are about to commit the alleged discriminatory housing practice. Within one hundred (100) days after receiving a complaint, or within one hundred (100) days after the expiration of any period of reference under subsection (3), the commission shall investigate the complaint and give notice in writing to the person aggrieved whether it intends to resolve it. If the commission decides to resolve the complaint, it shall proceed to try to eliminate or correct the alleged discriminatory housing practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion. Insofar as possible, conciliation meetings shall be held in the cities or other localities where the discriminatory housing practices allegedly occurred. Nothing said or done in the course of such informal endeavors may be made public or used as evidence in a subsequent proceeding without the written consent of the persons concerned. Any employee of the commission who makes public any information in violation of this provision is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable as provided by law.
(2) A complaint under subsection (1) must be filed within one (1) year after the alleged discriminatory housing practice occurred. The complaint must be in writing and shall state the facts upon which the allegations of a discriminatory housing practice are based. A complaint may be reasonably and fairly amended at any time. A respondent may file an answer to the complaint against him or her and, with the leave of the commission, which shall be granted whenever it would be reasonable and fair to do so, may amend his or her answer at any time. Both complaint and answer shall be verified.
(3) Wherever a local fair housing law provides rights and remedies for alleged discriminatory housing practices which are substantially equivalent to the rights and remedies provided in this act, the commission shall notify the appropriate local agency of any complaint filed under this which appears to constitute a violation of the local fair housing law, and the commission shall take no further action with respect to such complaint if the local law enforcement official has, within thirty (30) days from the date the alleged offense was brought to his or her attention, commenced proceedings in the matter. In no event shall the commission take further action unless it certifies that in its judgment, under the circumstances of the particular case, the protection of the rights of the parties or the interests of justice require such action.
(4) If, within one hundred eighty (180) days after a complaint is filed with the commission or within one hundred eighty (180) days after expiration of any period of reference under subsection (3), the commission has been unable to obtain voluntary compliance with this act, the person aggrieved may commence a civil action in any appropriate court against the respondent named in the complaint or petition for an administrative determination pursuant to Section 14 to enforce the rights granted or protected by this act. If, as a result of its investigation under subsection (1), the commission finds there is reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred, at the request of the person aggrieved, the Attorney General shall bring an action in the name of the state on behalf of the aggrieved person to enforce the provisions of this act.
(5) In any proceeding brought pursuant to this section or any other section, the burden of proof is on the complainant.
(6) Whenever an action filed in court pursuant to this section or Section 14 comes to trial, the commission shall immediately terminate all efforts to obtain voluntary compliance.
(7) (a) The commission may institute a civil action in any appropriate court if it is unable to obtain voluntary compliance with the act. The commission need not have petitioned for an administrative hearing or exhausted its administrative remedies prior to bring a civil action.
(b) The court may impose the following fines for each violation:
(i) Up to Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00), if the respondent has not previously been found guilty of a violation.
(ii) Up to Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00), if the respondent has been found guilty of one (1) prior violation of within the preceding five (5) years.
(iii) Up to Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00), if the respondent has been found guilty of two (2) or more violations within the preceding seven (7) years.
In imposing a fine under this paragraph, the court shall consider the nature and circumstances of the violation, the degree of culpability, the history of prior violations, the financial circumstances of the respondent and the goal of deterring future violations.
(c) The court shall award reasonable attorney's fees and costs to the commission in any action in which the commission prevails.
(8) Any local housing agency certified as substantially equivalent may institute a civil action in any appropriate court, including circuit court, if it is unable to obtain voluntary compliance with the local fair housing law. The agency need not have petitioned for an administrative hearing or exhausted its administrative remedies prior to bringing a civil action. The court may impose fines as provided in the local fair housing law.
SECTION 14. Civil actions and relief; administrative procedures. (1) A civil action shall be commenced no later than two (2) years after an alleged discriminatory housing practice has occurred. However, the court shall continue a civil case brought pursuant to this section or any other section from time to time before bringing it to trial if the court believes that the conciliation efforts of the commission or local agency are likely to result in satisfactory settlement of the discriminatory housing practice complained of in the complaint made to the commission or to the local agency and which practice forms the basis for the action in court. Any sale, encumbrance or rental consummated prior to the issuance of any court order issued under the authority of this act and involving a bona fide purchaser, encumbrance or tenant without actual notice of the existence of the filing of a complaint or civil action under the provisions of this act shall not be affected.
(2) If the court finds that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred, it shall issue an order prohibiting the practice and providing affirmative relief from the effects of the practice, including injunctive and other equitable relief, actual and punitive damages, and reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
(3) (a) If the commission is unable to obtain voluntary compliance with the act or has reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory practice has occurred:
(i) The commission may institute an administrative proceeding under Section 13 or 14; or
(ii) The person aggrieved may request administrative relief under Section 13 or 14 within thirty (30) days after receiving notice that the commission has concluded its investigation.
(b) Administrative hearings shall be conducted pursuant to rules of the commission. The respondent must be served written notice by certified mail. If the administrative law judge finds that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur, he or she shall issue a recommended order to the commission prohibiting the practice and recommending affirmative relief from the effects of the practice, including quantifiable damages and reasonable attorney's fees and costs. The commission may adopt, reject or modify a recommended order. Judgment for the amount of damages and costs assessed pursuant to a final order by the commission may be entered in any court having jurisdiction thereof and may be enforced as any other judgment.
(c) The circuit court may, upon the filing of appropriate notices of appeal, review final orders of the commission pursuant to law. Costs or fees may not be assessed against the commission in any appeal from a final order issued by the commission under this subsection. Unless specifically ordered by the court, the commencement of an appeal does not suspend or stay an order of the commission.
(d) This subsection does not prevent any other legal or administrative action provided by law.
SECTION 15. Conciliation agreements. Any conciliation agreement arising out of conciliation efforts by the Mississippi Commission on Fair Housing pursuant to the Fair Housing Act must be agreed to by the respondent and the complainant and is subject to the approval of the commission. Each conciliation agreement arising out of a complaint filed under the Fair Housing Act shall be made public unless the complainant and the respondent otherwise agree and the commission determines that disclosure is not required to further the purposes of the Mississippi Fair Housing Act.
SECTION 16. Interference, coercion or intimidation; enforcement by administrative or civil action. It is unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with any person in the exercise of, or on account of his or her having exercised, or on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise of any right granted under this act. This section may be enforced by appropriate administrative or civil action.
SECTION 17. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2007.