LDS students at BYU who make public their changes of religious conscience risk being evicted from their homes and apartments. Many of these students are not aware that they can successfully challenge such an eviction under both the Utah and federal Fair Housing Acts.
Below is the formula for challenging a religious eviction.*
To make your challenge successful, you should meet all four criteria.
- Live in BYU contracted housing (if you live in the dorms which are directly managed by BYU, you are not protected since the Fair Housing Act only applies to private landlords)
- Are (or until recently, were) a BYU student that has not yet been accepted at one of the other schools mentioned in your lease (e.g. UVU)
- Landlord attempted to or succeeded in kicking you out (e.g. you received a notice to vacate, or an eviction summons)
- Landlord’s act was caused because you changed religions (usually the trigger is your LDS Bishop withdrawing your ecclesiastical endorsement because he suspects or knows you no longer wish to be a Latter-day Saint, which results in the Honor Code Office directing your landlord to evict you)
- Realize your contract is unenforceable. Yes, your lease clearly states that violating the Honor Code (e.g. resigning your LDS membership) is “sufficient cause for eviction.” However, any part of the lease that violates the federal Fair Housing Act is not enforceable: especially the part that attempts to justify eviction based on your religious change.
- Consider retaining an attorney. Consultation with a licensed attorney experienced at litigating fair housing act cases is certainly a good idea, if you can find a way to finance that level of representation. Don’t worry though if you can’t, because there is a government agency paid to protect you in cases like these: the Office of Federal Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).
- Submit a Housing Discrimination Complaint to the FHEO. The FHEO enforces the Fair Housing Act.
- Call the FHEO to confirm your submission was received. Their number is (303) 672-5437; I spoke with a friendly employee named Warren (303.839.2614, firstname.lastname@example.org) who helped me, as did his coworker Tina (extension 5366). The FHEO will forward your complaint to the housing division of Utah Anti Discrimination and Labor (UADL) for processing.
- Call the UADL to confirm they received your complaint. Their number is (800) 877-7353; Verolinda Granados, the intake officer (801-530-6813, email@example.com), may work with you.
- Complete the UADL form. You may be asked to complete this form: if so, complete and return it to them, then call to confirm they received it with all the needed information. Dan Singer (801.530.6924, firstname.lastname@example.org) may assist.
- Notarize the affidavit. After a few days, the UADL will send you a complaint form that you will need to notarize (below). Notaries can often be found at a UPS store, and usually are either free or up to 15$. Turn it around quickly so the investigation can begin.
- Wait. UADL will conduct an investigation. Call them every few days for updates; follow any instructions they provide. Though you can still pursue the complaint if you move, by staying put you preserve standing for a possible civil case if the complaint fails for some reason.
- Confirm success. Secure the outcome of the investigation in writing. Because private landlords are forbidden under the Fair Housing Act from discriminating against you on the basis of religion, their contract with BYU will not protect them against enforcement by UADL or the Office of Federal Housing and Equal Opportunity. In all likelihood, your landlord will cease pursing an eviction against you before the investigation completes; if they do not, the FHEO will “persuade” them after concluding in your favor.
- Publicize. Be sure to document this entire process carefully, and ask for decisions from your landlord in writing. Share the results of your experience: many BYU students are justifiably frightened of losing their housing, since a single call from their Bishop for whatever reason (the Honor Code Office does not question the basis for a Bishop’s withdrawal of an ecclesiastical endorsement) can leave them facing an eviction. The more success stories that are publicized, the less fear these young adults experience.
I draw on (A) my experience practicing landlord-tenant law as a licensed attorney, and (B) my 2013 experience defending a victim in this situation.
*If you don’t yet understand how an eviction is triggered by an LDS student changing or leaving religion, see this diagram first for an overview.
I am willing to help you, and there are many other people and entities willing to assist as well. Numerous attorneys and members of the community offered their help to the other victim I defended, so consider sharing your situation to raise awareness to potential allies. I’m also told that Utah Legal Aid and the Utah ACLU are candidate resources.
For more detailed treatment of this subject, please see my related posts.
- Evicted because you changed religions? Welcome to BYU
- How to Prevent a BYU Student’s Eviction When She Leaves Mormonism
Brad Carmack, January 2014