The Department of Housing and Urban Development said today it is charging two Austin, Texas, landlords with violating the Fair Housing Act.

Anibal and Janet Silva are charged with discriminating against Hispanic families in the sale of four homes in Austin and San Antonio, Texas, the housing agency said today.

HUD’s investigation determined that on five separate occasions Hispanic home buyers made down payments and entered into what they believed to be purchase agreements for homes owned by the Silvas or their family members. The contract signed in all cases was actually a lease. Often, when the home buyers discovered they had been misled and requested a refund, the Silvas refused.

A former employee, Liliana Ramirez, who worked as an agent with Anibal Silva, told HUD officials that the Silvas targeted Hispanics because it was easy to get them to sign documents since they do not read them, or they are unable to read them due to their limited English skills. She said the Silvas always asked for their money up front.

“The Spanish-language ads this couple placed in the newspapers said that a person could buy a home with easy qualifications and no credit check,” said Floyd May, HUD’s general deputy assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “In reality, they were preying on Hispanic families, who knew little English, turning their dreams of home ownership into living nightmares.”

The investigation showed that in one case an Hispanic woman signed what she believed was a home purchase agreement that was drawn up on a Texas Association of Realtors Lease Agreement Form, according to HUD. The agreement stated that she was to pay a down payment of $6,000 and $1,500 monthly towards the property.

Seven months later, Anibal Silva evicted the woman and obtained a default judgment against her, HUD said. Instead of following through on the default, Silva moved the complainant into another Austin property and told her she was now buying this new property and had forfeited her payments on the previous property.

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to rent after a bona fide offer has been made, or refuse to negotiate for the rental or sale of a dwelling to a person because of national origin, among other things.

A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on Oct. 18, 2005, in the Austin, Texas, area. Housing discrimination charges carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense, more if the person has committed prior violations.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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