California Landlords Settle Over ‘No Criminal Record’ and Discrimination
California landlords have reached a settlement and agreed to pay $8,000 after a complaint alleging they used a policy of “no criminal or police record of any kind,” and in addition discriminated on the basis of race and national origin.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged in the conciliation agreement that the landlords discriminated on the basis of race, national origin and prior criminal history, according to a release. The agreement names the Grand Oaks Apartments and Sierra Vista Apartments in Atwood, California, and MacBeth Apartment Systems in Carlsbad, California.
“Denying someone an apartment because of how they look or where they come from not only deprives them of a home, it is against the law,” Anna María Farías, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in the release. The “agreement reaffirms HUD’s commitment to ensuring that every person, no matter their race or national origin, has access to the housing of their choice.”
The agreement is the result of two complaints the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County (FHCRC) filed with HUD after it conducted fair housing tests. The complaints alleged that the owners and managers of Sierra Vista and Grand Oaks Apartments discriminated against applicants because of their race and national origin. According to the complaints, tests conducted by FHCRC allegedly showed that property managers at the two complexes refused to rent, cited different terms and conditions, and misrepresented the availability of units to testers based on their race and national origin.
Landlords to Pay $8,000 in Settlement
Under the terms of the agreement, the owners and property managers will pay FHCRC $8,000, require that their employees take fair housing training, amend their rental qualification criteria to remove the requirement that applicants have “No Criminal or Police Record of Any Kind,” and develop and implement a nondiscriminatory criminal record policy.
The agreement also says MacBeth Apartment Systems must delete from their qualifying criteria “no criminal or police record of any kind” and provide HUD a copy of the revisions. Also “develop a criminal records policy that complies with the Fair Housing Act to be used in evaluating potential applicants at all properties,” according to the settlement. It also requires the company to distribute the new policy to all company executives and staff responsible for screening applicants and tenants.
Landlord Rejects Assistance Animal
An Army veteran, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, was told he could not keep his emotional support dog in an apartment complex and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged the owner and manager of the complex with discrimination, according to a release.
“Assistance animals play a vital role in helping our veterans cope with service-related disabilities,” Anna Maria Farías, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in the release.
“Housing providers have an obligation to permit these animals, and HUD ensures that they meet this obligation,” she said.
The veteran, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, receives disability benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration for his major depressive disorder and also suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to HUD.
HUD filed the charge against a West St. Paul, Minn., apartment complex which ordered the veteran to remove the dog and suggested he get a cat instead as it was under the complex’s rule of 12 pounds for an animal.
The veteran was told he was keeping a dog in violation of the lease. The letter stated that the dog should be removed immediately and warned that three lease violations could lead to eviction, according to the complaint. The veteran asked for reasonable accommodation for his emotional support animal and was denied.
The veteran then filed a complaint alleging that the owner and manager of Westview Park Apartments denied his request to keep an assistance animal, despite the veteran explaining in detail his right to have the animal.
In a letter responding to the veteran’s request, the owner suggested the cat, citing the property’s policy of allowing cats but not allowing assistance animals weighing more than 12 pounds. The owner also stated that, even for an animal under 12 pounds, the veteran would need to provide proof that the animal was licensed.
The veteran responded by providing a copy of his license for the animal, a certificate of training, and additional information about the animal, but the owner still refused his request, stating the dog had to be removed from the property.
He provided a letter from Sutherland Counseling supporting his need for the animal, along with his own written statement describing his symptoms and need for the animal, according to the complaint. He adopted the emotional support dog, a great Dane-golden retriever mix.
In a subsequent letter, the manager notified the veteran that he was in violation of his lease by having the dog and that he had two weeks to vacate the unit. The eviction action was later withdrawn, but the veteran, still not being allowed to keep the animal, moved out of the apartment at the end of his lease.
The complaint was amended to include apartment complex owner James Tilsen and rental manager Deborah Brookins, according to the Pioneer Press at twincities.com.
Tilsen denied the discrimination charge and said he plans to fight the accusation. He questions the validity of the paperwork from the counseling firm. “Pretty much anybody can say that,” Tilsen told the newspaper about the veteran needing an emotional-support dog. “If he had presented something from the V.A. that said that he needed it, we would’ve treated it differently. We didn’t have that. All we had was an online (document) from an online psychologist that said he needed a dog. I went online and got the same thing.”
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to people with disabilities, or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices for people with disabilities. Allowing people with disabilities to have assistance animals that perform work or tasks, or that provide disability-related emotional support, is considered a reasonable accommodation under the Act.
Disability is the most common basis of complaint filed with HUD and its partner agencies. Last year alone, HUD and its partners considered more than 4,500 disability-related complaints, nearly 55 percent of all fair housing complaints.
HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party elects for the case to be heard in federal court. If the administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the complainant for his loss as a result of the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties in order to vindicate the public interest.
HUD Charges Landlord with Sexual Harassment of Female Tenants
The landlord and owner of several rental properties in Wichita, Kansas has been charged with sexual harassment of female tenants and housing discrimination after the landlord allegedly offered to exchange sex for rent, according to a release.
“Landlords who use their position to intimidate or harass residents or to attempt to trade sexual favors for rent violate the sanctity of a woman’s home, the place where she should feel the safest,” Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in the release.
“HUD is committed to protecting the housing rights of those who are sexually harassed and will continue to take action any time housing providers violate those rights.”
The charge is the result of complaints filed by two female residents alleging that the landlord made unwanted sexual advances toward them, harassed them, made derogatory statements based on race, and evicted them because they refused his advances.
HUD’s charge alleges that the landlord subjected one of the women, who was working as a property manager, to a hostile environment, including entering her apartment uninvited, sexually harassing her, and requesting sex in exchange for allowing her to stay in her unit. The charge also alleges that the landlord told her that he could be her “sugar daddy,” grabbed her buttocks, and made comments about her body to others. On one occasion she awoke to find him in her bedroom on her bed.
The charge further alleges that the landlord subjected a second woman to a hostile environment by making numerous requests for sex when he picked up her rent payments. Once, when she was late paying a portion of her rent, the landlord allegedly asked her if she wanted to have sex with him instead of paying the $150 she owed. When she refused the offer, the landlord allegedly became very upset and immediately wrote her a 3-day notice to vacate.
“Throughout the course of Complainant tenancy, Respondent Thong Cao made comments such as “if you ever want a sugar daddy, you should consider me because I am rich, and I can take care of you,” would smack or grab her buttocks, urinate in front of her without closing the bathroom door, and would make comments that her boyfriend, who lived with her, did not love her, but that Respondent did love her,” according to the complaint.
“Respondent Cao informed her she could “work off’ her $800 a month rental payment through her property manager duties, or she could sleep with him once a week in exchange for her rent, “and still put money in her pocket.” Complainant rejected his offer to exchange sex for rent, but Complainant continued to perform her property manager duties in exchange for rent” according to the complaint.
”Complainant was asleep in just a t-shirt and underwear when she woke up to find Respondent Cao sitting on her bed with his hand up under her blanket and rubbing her feet. Complainant screamed at him to get out, and she got dressed. When she went downstairs, he was in her living room and he insisted she go with him to look at a unit in need of repair. While driving Complainant in his truck to see the repairs, Respondent Cao called Complainant a vile name and told her that he was her boss. She exited the truck at a stop light extremely upset, and walked home,” according to the complaint.
The tenant also filed for a protection against stalking order, “Landlord is asking for sex when he is called to fix things in the house and to get rent. I feel violated and feel like he won’t stop till he gets what he wants, willingly or unwilling,” according to the complaint.
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. Sexual harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination.
The charge of sexual harassment of female tenants will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party elects for the case to be heard in federal court. If the administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the complainants for their loss as a result of the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties in order to vindicate the public interest.
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