Minnesota homeowners and their Realtor are being charged with discrimination by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for refusing to rent a home to a family based on their race, national origin and having minor children, a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“Denying housing to a family because of their race and national origin and because they have children not only robs them of a place to call home, it violates this nation’s housing laws,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, in a release.

“Today’s action reaffirms HUD’s commitment to taking action to protect the right of families to obtain the housing of their choice, free from discrimination.”

The homeowners — named in the complaint as Hans Serleth and Corie Serleth — allegedly refused to rent their 7,000-square-foot, six-bedroom home in Beltrami County, Minnesota, home to the Red Lake Native American Reservation, to a family of four adults and seven children because of their race and national origin.

The family members were Native American and Mexican American. They also allegedly refused because the family has minor children, according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleged that the owners and their Realtor — Barbara Raymond of Lakes and More Realty, a licensed Realtor and member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) — discouraged the family from renting the home by offering them less favorable renting terms — including a $1,000 rent increase from the listing.

The family was forced to split up and live in separate residences, according to the complaint.

“Housing discrimination because of familial status, race or national origin has long been prohibited in this country,” said Paul Compton, HUD’s General Counsel, in a release. “HUD will continue to vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act to advocate for families with children, and other protected classes, who are treated unjustly in violation of the law.”

The charges from HUD will be heard by a United States administrative law judge — unless the accused parties elect to be heard in federal court. If the judge finds discrimination occurred, he or she may award damages to the family for its losses.

The judge can also offer other relief — including attorney’s fees incurred — as well as impose civil penalties to vindicate the public interest, the release says.

Raymond did not return a call requesting comment on the charges. A spokesperson for NAR said the association cannot directly address the charge but offered a statement affirming its commitment to fair housing.

“The National Association of Realtors cannot directly address this individual report of discrimination, but we affirm our commitment to fair housing law and are the strongest supporters of equal housing opportunity,” said Sara Wiskerchen, a spokesperson for NAR.

“NAR firmly believes in a housing market free from discrimination, which goes against our Code of Ethics and hurts real estate markets.”

Minnesota Realtors CEO Chris Galler said the association is aware of the charges filed by HUD against a member, and it does not comment on pending legal matters.

“The Minnesota Realtors is committed to the Fair Housing Act, the protections it provides everyday Americans, and eliminating discrimination in housing,” Galler added.

Email Patrick Kearns

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