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apartment for rent photoAn apartment management firm in Milwaukee and its lawyer have launched a counteroffensive against HUD for what they say is a frivolous complaint of discrimination, going public in an attempt to restore a reputation already damaged by public allegations before the case was proven to be true.

HUD issued a press release this week announcing the charges pending against the firm, using the company’s name, and making allegations that the firm discriminated against an African American when they told the applicant there were no available units.

The statement outlines specific details, including an allegation that the couple called to inquire about renting a two-bedroom apartment after a white friend, who once lived at the apartment building, recommended it to them. The couple allege that the husband spoke to a leasing agent who told him that there was no apartment available at the time. The couple claims they made several more inquiries over the next few months after noticing newspaper advertisements for apartments at the property and seeing a Now Renting sign outside the property. With each inquiry, they claim they were told that there were no vacancies.

The couple claim that later a white friend called to inquire about apartments and was told a unit was available and offered to show it to her just fifteen minutes after he told the wife that there was no unit available.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council then initiated telephone and in-person testing to make inquiries about the availability of two-bedroom apartments at the complex. The Council claimed the leasing agent repeatedly told the black testers that there were no vacancies, while inviting white testers to view the apartments.

The landlord maintains that at the time of the inquires, there were, in fact, no available units, and that they often rent to minorities.

According to the firm’s attorney, Ronald S. Stadler of SmithAmundsen LLC in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “It is unfortunate that HUD publicly sought to simply announce that it intends to file a complaint, when in fact [our client] has denied all allegations of discrimination.”

Mr. Stadler pointed out that “anyone can file a complaint, but then they have to actually prove their case. We have demanded a jury trial in federal court because we believe when all of the facts are presented to a jury, it will conclude that [this landlord] did not discriminate against anyone and in fact has rented to African Americans and other minorities currently and in the past.”

According to Mr. Stadler, the alleged victims have a history of being sued by creditors and were evicted by a previous landlord for failing to pay rent.

Once the couple raised the discrimination claims, they also demanded $125,000 from the landlord to settle their alleged claims, according to Mr. Stadler. After the landlord refused to pay, the couple and HUD moved forward. They filed complaints with the State of Wisconsin Equal Rights Division and HUD.

The State administrative proceeding was dismissed after the landlord demanded a jury trial in La Crosse County Circuit Court. The victims have taken no further action on that matter.

According to Mr. Stadler, HUD’s charge merely indicates that the Agency suspects that discrimination occurred, but this is all based upon “the complainants’ self-serving allegations.” No testimony has been taken and no documentary evidence has been admitted.

Mr. Stadler pointed out that because the landlord immediately demanded a jury trial in federal court, HUD now actually has to decide whether it will file a civil complaint and then attempt to prove that discrimination actually occurred, not just that complainants suspect that it occurred.

He also noted that the landlord has long been a valuable, trusted part of the La Crosse community, with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and a history of renting to all qualified applicants regardless of race. “It intends to use the judicial process to demonstrate that it does not engage in discrimination,” Mr. Stadler says.

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  • IBQuig

    When it comes to discrimination complaints, a landlord is guilty until proven innocent. It costs nothing for a person to make a complaint. There are no repercussions if the complaint is determined without merit or if in fact the complaint was a retaliatory measure for enforcing a lease or an effort to extort money.

    We recently went through almost a year of investigation for a discrimination complaint because a tenant needed money to pay college loans. The fabricated complaint in collusion with friends on property was finally determined unfounded. But we have no recourse but to wait until these leases expire to rid ourselves of folks looking at “the landlord” as their “pot of gold”. While we follow the law in treating people fairly, there is no obligation for others to do the same.

    It would seem that HUD should refrain from publicizing these investigations as an issue of fairness.

  • Smeado

    A person filing a lawsuit may be held liable for the other party’s legal costs if they lose. My lease has this clause. I think this is often the case but it’s often not worth it since renters are often broke.

  • betterbusinesslandlord

    So, this management company has a stellar reputation for nondiscriminatory housing because it has rented to minorities in the past and currently has minority renters. That’s great. However, not once in this article was it ever mentioned that the management firm denies actually discriminating against the couple that filed the complaint with HUD. Nor does the management company deny that it lied to African American testers sent by HUD about the availability of a vacant unit. To make matters worse, the management firm goes out its way to publicly announce the complainant’s personal financial situation with regards to evictions and being sued by creditors. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what your financial situation is or how many times you’ve been evicted: you still have a right to inquire about housing regardless of your ethnic background. I’m sure that when these people called in AND visited the property that they didn’t show up with documents proving how bad of a credit risk they were. The only evident reason why the complainants and the African American testers sent by HUD were told there were no units available was because the management company through its leasing agent were actively pursuing a policy of racial discrimination.

    This management company should be sued for damages. They will lose at trial. HUD won’t have to show that the management company has a history of discriminatory practices. They need only show that through their testing the management company is currently discriminating against people (African Americans in this case) which is against the law. The management company really has no defense.

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