The Department of Housing and Urban Development today reported its fifth action in a month on alleged Fair Housing violations. HUD today announced it charged the Grand Canyon Enterprises Inc., owner of the a seven-unit apartment building in Reno, Nev., with violating the Fair Housing Act for allegedly refusing to rent an apartment to an African-American couple based on their race/color and their disabilities.
On April 22, 2002 an African-American couple with disabilities learned of a two-bedroom apartment vacancy at 750 Moran St. from a Caucasian who resided at the complex. Charles and Victoria Bell, and Carolyn Jackson, Ms. Bell’s mother, met Anita Grabowski, the property manager and part shareholder, at the apartments.
While viewing the apartments, Victoria told the manager that the building was great because she was on kidney dialysis and she could walk to Washoe Medical Center. Charles viewed the apartment while using his mobile oxygen tank.
After viewing the apartment, Grabowski told the Bell’s to submit their application through Lanie Stovall, the friend who had alerted them of the vacancy. When Stovall gave Grabowski the completed application, Grabowski allegedly said the Bell’s were “too sickly” to live in the apartment and she did not want to deal with “whatever is wrong” with Mr. Bell.
It is also alleged that Grabowski told Stovall “I’m not prejudiced, but I prefer not to rent to black people.” Grabowski then allegedly tossed the application in the trash. When the Bell’s called to inquire about the status of their application, Grabosski said she felt they were too sick to live in the unit. Several weeks later she rented the apartment to two white males.
Through HUD’s investigation two witnesses were found who confirmed that Grabowski had made discriminatory statements about renting to blacks or Mexicans. HUD’s investigation also revealed that some applicants were not required to complete rental applications and some units had even been rented on the spot, without any references being checked.
As a result of the concerns expressed by the Bell’s, the Silver State Fair Housing Council conducted two independent tests on the basis of disability. During the initial test Grabowski discouraged a potential tenant who said she was undergoing radiation therapy and was looking for an apartment for her and her husband. Grabowski discouraged the tester by saying the apartment was too small.
Later when a non-disabled tester phoned Grabowski inquiring about an apartment for her and her husband, Grabowski scheduled an appointment to view the apartment and never mentioned the apartment was too small.
“People with disabilities should have the same opportunities as everyone else,” said Carolyn Peoples, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “The Fair Housing Act opens doors of opportunity to everyone, not just to those a landlord deems OK.”
A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on Jan. 11, 2004, in the Reno, Nevada, 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.
Last week, HUD charged a Chicago man with Fair Housing violations for allegedly intimidating and harassing his Jewish neighbors based on their national origin and religion.
Last month, HUD charged apartment building owner Barron’s Gate Construction Co. of Woodbridge, N.J., with Fair Housing violations for their alleged refusal to rent an apartment solely based on the applicant’s national origin and religion. The housing agency also 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.
In late September, 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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