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.
On Tuesday (November 24, 2009), the DOJ filed a lawsuit against Terence Flanagan, a Chicago area property owner and rental agent, alleging that he refused to rent properties he owned or controlled to African-Americans, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Flanagan refused to rent a single-family house he owned to Kamal Alex Majeid, who is African-American, because of his race.
According to the lawsuit, on or about July 27, 2009, Kamal Alex Majeid called the telephone number listed in a newspaper advertisement that offered for rent a single-family house (located in Orland Park, Illinois), confirmed that the house was available for rent, and made an appointment to see the house the following day.
On July 28, 2009, Mr. Majeid, who is African-American, and his wife met Mr. Flanagan outside the rental house. When they arrived to see the house, they observed Mr. Flanagan standing outside speaking with a white man. Mr. Flanagan invited them to inspect the house on their own. Mr. Flanagan later came inside and informed them that he had already rented the house to the white man he had been speaking to when they arrived. The Majeids asked if he had any other properties. Mr. Flanagan replied that he had another one, but that that he did not think it would work for them.
On July 29, 2009, Mrs. Majeid called the telephone number listed in the newspaper advertisement for the same rental house. Without identifying herself, Mrs. Majeid asked the man who answered the telephone whether the house was still available for rent. The man told her that it was, and she made an appointment to see the house later that day. She did not keep that appointment.
Later that same day, the Majeids contacted the South Suburban Housing Center (“SSHC”) to submit a complaint that Mr. Flanagan had illegally discriminated against them in connection with their attempt to rent the Orland Park house. The SSHC is a private suburban Chicago fair housing organization.
On July 30, 2009, the SSHC had a female African-American fair housing tester call the telephone number listed in the advertisement for the Orland Park house. Nobody answered the telephone, so she left a message, including her telephone number. To date, she has not received a return call.
On July 31, 2009, the SSHC had a white female fair housing tester call the telephone number listed in the advertisement for the Orland Park house. She spoke with Mr. Flanagan, who stated that the house was available for rent, and they made an appointment to meet at the Orland Park house later that afternoon.
During the course of the white female tester's conversation with Mr. Flanagan at the Orland Park house on July 31, he stated that he had received many telephone calls about the house, most of them from black persons. He asked whether the tester's husband was black, and, after she responded no, he related problems he had had when he had unknowingly rented the house previously to an interracial couple. Mr. Flanagan also made various statements that expressed his preference or intention not to rent the Orland Park house to African-American tenants.
The white SSHC tester asked Mr. Flanagan if he had any other properties that he rented. He replied that he had apartments in other Chicago-area suburbs.
On August 7, 2009, the DOJ conducted a fair housing test at the Orland Park house to evaluate the Mr. Flanagan's compliance with the Fair Housing Act. A white female tester made an appointment by telephone with Mr. Flanagan to see the house, and met him there later that day. Mr. Flanagan asked the tester whether her husband was black before he showed her the house, and he related problems that he had had when he had unknowingly rented the house several years before to an interracial couple. Mr. Flanagan also made several statements that expressed his preference or intent not to rent the Orland Park house to African-American tenants. Mr. Flanagan offered to rent the house to the white tester for an amount lower than advertised because of her race. Near the end of their conversation, Mr. Flanagan stated that he handled some 96 units, primarily in Chicago-area suburbs.
Mr. Flanagan told the white testers for both the SSHC and the DOJ that he had previously rejected an offer to rent the Orland Park house from an African-American man who had offered to rent the house at the advertised price and pay a full year's rent in advance.
The lawsuit alleges that the dealings the Majeids had with Mr. Flanagan and the testing undertaken by the DOJ and the SSHC revealed that Mr. Flanagan had engaged, and continued to engage, in housing practices that discriminated on the basis .of race and color, including:
- Refusing to negotiate, in person or by telephone, for the rental of or otherwise making unavailable dwellings to persons who are, or who he believes to be, African-American;
- Denying the availability of dwellings for rent or inspection to African-American persons while at the same time telling white persons about dwellings available to rent or inspect;
- Offering dwellings for rent at different rates based on the race or color of the prospective applicant; and
- Making statements that express his intent or preference not to rent dwellings to African-Americans.
The lawsuit further alleges that Mr. Flanagan’s conduct constitutes:
- A refusal to negotiate for the rental of, or otherwise making unavailable or denying dwellings to persons because of race or color, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a);
- Discrimination against persons in the terms, conditions or privileges of rental, or in the provision of services in connection therewith, because of race or color, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b);
- The making of statements with respect to the rental of a dwelling that indicate a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race or color or an intent to make such a preference, limitation, or discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(C); and
- A representation to persons because of race or color that dwellings are not available for inspection or rental when such dwellings are in fact so available, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(d).
The DOJ’s lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendant, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendant’s 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.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice press release and legal complaint and lawsuit documents (portions of press release used with permission)
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