(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 100 days after receiving a complaint, or within 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 under ss. 760.20-760.37 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 of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
(2) A complaint under subsection (1) must be filed within 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 ss. 760.20-760.37, the commission shall notify the appropriate local agency of any complaint filed under ss. 760.20-760.37 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 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 180 days after a complaint is filed with the commission or within 180 days after expiration of any period of reference under subsection (3), the commission has been unable to obtain voluntary compliance with ss. 760.20-760.37, 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 s. 760.35 to enforce the rights granted or protected by ss. 760.20-760.37. 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 ss. 760.20-760.37.
(5) In any proceeding brought pursuant to this section or s. 760.35, the burden of proof is on the complainant.
(6) Whenever an action filed in court pursuant to this section or s. 760.35 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 ss. 760.20-760.37. The commission need not have petitioned for an administrative hearing or exhausted its administrative remedies prior to bringing a civil action.
(b) The court may impose the following fines for each violation of ss. 760.20-760.37:
1. Up to $10,000, if the respondent has not previously been found guilty of a violation of ss. 760.20-760.37.
2. Up to $25,000, if the respondent has been found guilty of one prior violation of ss. 760.20-760.37 within the preceding 5 years.
3. Up to $50,000, if the respondent has been found guilty of two or more violations of ss. 760.20-760.37 within the preceding 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 of ss. 760.20-760.37, the financial circumstances of the respondent, and the goal of deterring future violations of ss. 760.20-760.37.
(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 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.
History.—ss. 9, 10, ch. 83-221; s. 7, ch. 89-321; s. 2, ch. 94-91; s. 418, ch. 96-406; s. 1793, ch. 97-102.