The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged several entities controlling a Cannon Falls, Minn., apartment complex with violating the Fair Housing Act for their roles in allegedly steering a potential black renter to another town.

HUD has brought charges against Marlene McGee, manager of the Cannon Valley Apartment complex; Croix Management Co.; Cannon Valley Apartments Limited Partnership; and Margaret Alden, general partner of Cannon Valley.

“Steering home seekers to or from particular areas because of their race is against the law,” said Kim Kendrick, HUD assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “The Fair Housing Act guarantees everyone the right to live where they choose, and when that right has been violated we will take swift action.”

HUD’s investigation showed that in March 2005, Jo Lynn Rainer saw a local newspaper ad on Cannon Valley Apartments in Cannon Falls. Rainer called to inquire about vacancies and eventually ended up speaking with the apartment’s property manager, McGee.

During the conversation, McGee allegedly asked Rainer about her children and then began explaining the problems experienced previously with a female tenant who had five black children. McGee also allegedly told Rainer that minorities were tolerated in the apartment complex, but she was unsure how minorities would be tolerated in the town.

The investigation showed that McGee also made a point of telling Rainer that more minorities worked and lived in Pine Island, Minn., than in Cannon Falls. McGee stated she was aware of that fact because her mother lives in Pine Island.

The statements clearly indicated a tenant preference based upon race, HUD said.

After McGee’s insights, Rainer, who was relocating to Minnesota so her children could grow up in a safe neighborhood, did not feel safe residing in a community that was not accepting of minorities.

“Our homes are usually our sanctuary and where we feel safest,” HUD’s Kendrick said. “It’s a shame that this woman feared for the safety of herself and her children because of the color of her skin. Ms. Rainer was made to fear the Cannon Valley Apartment complex.”

Last week, HUD announced it had charged several entities controlling a Michigan apartment complex with violating the Fair Housing Act when they evicted a man who was awarded a new due date for paying his rent.

Housing discrimination charges heard before an administrative law judge 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 attorneys’ fees. Sanctions can be more severe if a respondent has a history of housing discrimination. If either party elects to go to federal district court, either party may request a jury trial, and punitive damages may be awarded.

People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at (800) 669-9777 or DOJ at (800) 896-7743 or (202) 514-4713. Additional information is available at www.hud.gov and www.usdoj.gov.

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