Here is another example of a recent Fair Housing Act lawsuit brought by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”). I try to post case summaries in order to provide timely updates to real estate professionals about the "dos and don'ts" under the Fair Housing Act, since fair housing is such an important issue.
Yesterday (November 12, 2009), the DOJ filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging a pattern or practice of violations of the Fair Housing Act by the owner and managers of Forum Manor Apartments, a federally-subsidized apartment complex, for refusing to rent to African-Americans and males, refusing to allow tenants to have African-American visitors, sexually harassing female tenants and retaliating against tenants who complained about such discrimination.
The lawsuit alleges that Roger Harris, the manager of Forum Manor Apartments, refused to rent to African-Americans. According to the court documents, Mr. Harris told a prospective tenant, "I don't rent to people who look like you," or words to that effect. The lawsuit further alleges that Mr. Harris repeatedly sexually harassed and intimidated female tenants and refused to rent to males.
An investigation conducted by United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) prior to the lawsuit being filed determined that Mr. Harris routinely and blatantly made disparaging, insulting, and derogatory comments to numerous tenants, including those with biracial children and African-American boyfriends, about African-Americans calling them the N-word, thugs, hoodlums, and gangsters. He warned tenants that African-American cause trouble and live off their girlfriends, and he did not want them on the property or stirring up trouble. Additionally, HUD determined that prior to its investigation, Mr. Harris never approved a single African-American applicant at Forum Manor Apartments.
HUD also determined that Mr. Harris intimidated, threatened, and scared numerous female tenants with his unpredictable and controlling behavior. He did so by peeping in their windows at night, making them cry, yelling aggressively and angrily at them, threatening to terminate their housing, telling them they could not have male guests and he was the only man they needed, and attempting to exert power over them by insisting he was doing them favors by allowing them to live there or by not evicting them.
Additionally, HUD determined that Mr. Harris routinely created an uncomfortable living environment for many of the women by making inappropriate and vulgar comments, gestures, and innuendos of a sexually suggestive nature, and by frequently touching them in a personal way, such as rubbing their backs or shoulders or touching their hair or caressing their faces. Mr. Harris also made sexual comments and innuendos implying he would provide favorable treatment to female tenants if they engaged in sex acts with him.
Moreover, HUD determined that, at no time prior to its investigation, did Mr. Harris rent a unit to any single male head of household. Mr. Harris regularly told tenants that the property was for single women to get back on their feet and made other statements indicating he preferred to rent to women.
The lawsuit also names as defendants Hediger Enterprises Inc., Forum Manor Associates L.P., and Forum Manor LLC, which jointly own and manage Forum Manor. Those entities were on notice of Mr. Harris' mistreatment of tenants at the property and knew or should have known of his discriminatory conduct. The lawsuit alleges that they are vicariously liable for Mr. Harris’ conduct.
This lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with HUD by four tenants. After an investigation of the complaints, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and, after complainants elected to have the case heard in federal court, referred the case to DOJ, which filed this lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions and a civil penalty. The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in court.
As every real estate professional should already know, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, sex, color, national origin, disability, religion and familial status. Illegal acts include harassing tenants based on race, color and/or sex and discriminating against tenants because they associate with persons of another race. It is also unlawful to intimidate any person because the person has filed a fair housing complaint or participated in a fair housing investigation.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice press release, HUD Charge of Discrimination, and legal complaint (portions of press release used with permission)
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