From time to time I include in the Fair Housing Defense blog new cases filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and/or the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dealing with the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Just last month, DOJ filed a lawsuit against the manager and owner of the Geneva Terrace Apartments, a community in La Crosse, Wisconsin, alleging discrimination against African-Americans who were seeking to rent apartments at the complex.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, alleges that the manager and owner of Geneva Terrace told prospective African American renters that apartments were not available when they were, while telling prospective white renters that there were apartments available.
As alleged in the complaint, in 2009 and 2010, the community manager told an African-American couple who were interested in renting an apartment in Geneva Terrace that there were no apartments available, even though the complex had posted a sign advertising vacancies. The couple found it suspicious and asked a white friend to contact the complex. It is alleged that the white friend was told there were available apartments. The couple then reported their experience to a nonprofit fair housing organization. That organization conducted fair housing tests, which it is alleged in the complaint confirmed that the community manager was telling African Americans that apartments were not available when they were while showing available apartments to white persons.
The couple also filed a complaint with HUD, which conducted an investigation and, after issuing a charge of discrimination, referred the matter to DOJ. The lawsuit seeks an order prohibiting the defendants from engaging in future unlawful discrimination. It also seeks payment of a civil penalty and monetary damages for the persons who were refused the opportunity to rent at Geneva Terrace because of their race.
As I have written before, as a defense lawyer I always know there are two sides to the story and I always look forward to hearing what the defendants will say. However, this case provides yet another compelling reason to ensure all of us in the professional apartment ownership and management business continue to follow the law and ensure that our communities and employees do not discriminate. DOJ and HUD — along with fair housing testers — continue to probe and file new cases. You do not want to be next. If you are, you may need a lawyer like me.
Just a Thought.