The Department of Housing and Urban Development today reported its third action this month on alleged Fair Housing Violations. HUD today reported it has charged the Barron’s Gate Construction Co., owner of the Barron’s Gate Apartments in Woodbridge, N.J., and one of its employees with violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to rent an apartment to a couple based on their national origin and religion.

An investigation HUD conducted into an Arab couple’s application to rent a unit in the New Jersey complex spurred the charges.

The department found that on Sept. 15, 2001, while the Arab couple of Muslim faith completed the Barron’s Gate application form, the resident manager conducting the interview allegedly commented that his friend owned a weapons store in the area and told him that since Sept. 11th, the shop owner had sold weapons to people who wanted to kill Arabs and Muslims. Despite the encounter, the couple paid $100 for a credit check and completed the application process, according to HUD.

Several days later, the resident manager contacted the couple and informed them that their application had been rejected, allegedly because of their short credit and employment history. The couple made follow-up visits to the rental office in an attempt to rent the apartment. They also sent a follow-up letter, offering to pay the entire years’ rent in advance, plus a security deposit. These offers were rejected.

The Housing Coalition of Central Jersey, a fair housing advocacy group, also tested the complex’s application process by using a white female tester with credentials similar to those of the couple seeking to rent, according to HUD. The tester was assured by the individual in the rental office that her short credit history would not be a problem. HUD identified tenants who had shorter employment histories and worse credit than the Arab and Muslim couple.

“Being able to live where you want to without regard to your national origin and religion is one of the cornerstones of the Fair Housing Act.” said Carolyn Peoples, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “This case should send a clear and unambiguous message to any landlord who would discriminate against persons based on where they were born or their religious faith.”

A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on Jan. 4, 2005, in the New York area, unless either the complainant or respondent elect to have the case decided by a federal judge in U.S. District Court.

Housing discrimination charges carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense in addition to actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees. Sanctions can be more severe if the respondent has a history of housing discrimination. Should either party elect to go to federal district court, either party may request a jury trial.

Earlier this month, HUD made charges against newspaper publisher Want Ads of Boise Inc., alleging the company violated the Fair Housing Act by accepting and publishing housing ads in the Thrifty Nickel that excluded potential owners and renters because of their familial status.

Also this month, the department charged two Arkansas landlords with Fair Housing violations for their alleged refusal to rent a house to an individual solely based on the applicant’s national origin.

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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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