Two Cleveland-area landlords are facing charges of discrimination for statements made to a prospective tenant.
The government claims that the African-American landlords discriminated against a Hispanic woman when they suggested that she would not feel comfortable in a predominantly black neighborhood, and that the statements were intended to discourage her from renting there.
According to the complaint, the Hispanic woman and fair housing tester each attempted to rent a three-bedroom house owned by the landlords, one of whom is a licensed real estate agent. When the landlords showed the Hispanic tester the home, they asked the woman why she wanted to live in a black neighborhood and remarked that it was not a good idea.
After the woman expressed her interest in renting the house, the landlord allegedly told her that she would have to consider it while she continued to show the house to other prospective renters.
During HUD’s investigation, the landlord admitted to the investigator that she had “problems” with races other than African American when the dominate race of the community is black. The house was eventually rented to an African-American family.
If a judge finds that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the claimant, order injunctive relief and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines in order to vindicate the public interest.
If the matter is decided in federal court, a judge may also award punitive damages.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability, including discouraging a person from living in a neighborhood.
“A property owner, and in this case a real estate agent, does not have the right to deny housing to a person because of their race or where they come from,” stated John TrasviÃ±a, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “When they do it is unacceptable and unlawful. The Fair Housing Act guarantees equal housing opportunities for all and HUD is committed to enforcing the law.”
FHEO and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate more than 10,000 housing discrimination complaints annually.
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