The Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as various state, city, and county civil rights agencies – often assisted by fair housing testers – continue to seek out and file cases alleging discrimination in housing across the country.

Earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced a proposed settlement with Fountain View Apartments, Inc., its landlord, and a former rental manager in which the defendants agreed to pay $415,000 in monetary damages and civil penalties to settle a Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuit alleging that they discriminated against African Americans and families with children at Fountain View Apartments, a 42-unit apartment complex in Orange City, Fla. Under the proposed consent decree, the defendants will pay $175,000 to nine individuals identified by the United States as victims of defendants’ discriminatory conduct, $140,000 to three plaintiffs who intervened in the lawsuit, and $100,000 to the United States as a civil penalty. In addition, the consent decree prohibits the defendants from engaging in discrimination and requires Fountain View Apartments Inc. to retain an independent manager to manage the property.

The case stated when an African American woman visited Fountain View with her grandson and inquired about the availability of apartments. The community manager told her that there were no vacancies and while the manager provided an application, the prospective resident was not permitted to submit it. The application also contained the notation "ADULTS ONLY" in the space designated for the number of children. Later that same day, the prospective resident had a friend telephone Fountain View to request information about apartment availability and she was told that apartments were available. A local television station subsequently conducted a series of fair housing tests – simulated transactions to compare responses given by housing providers to different types of apartment-seekers to determine whether illegal discrimination is occurring – and found that the defendants were providing more information and better treatment to white persons than to African American persons.

In December 2009, the court found that the defendants had violated the FHA by engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against families with children. Additionally, the DOJ was prepared to show that the defendants also discriminated against African Americans by, among other things, telling white persons that a selling point of the apartment complex is that Fountain View does not have any black residents; denying the availability of apartments to African American persons while at the same time telling white persons about available apartments; refusing to show apartments to African American persons while at the same time showing apartments to white persons; discouraging African American persons from applying for an apartment while encouraging white persons to apply; refusing to negotiate with African American prospective tenants for rental; threatening to evict one or more tenants who were known or believed to have African American friends and associates; and making statements with respect to the rental of apartments at Fountain View indicating a preference, a limitation, or discrimination because of race or color.

Cases and settlements like these continue to illustrate while management must continue to be vigilant in following our anti-discrimination laws. It is not only that we have an obligation to follow the law – it is also the right thing to do.

Just A Thought.