In a press release issued last week, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) revealed it settled a racial discrimination Fair Housing Act (FHA) claim for $80,000 pursuant to the terms of a voluntary compliance agreement directed toward an apartment community in Georgia. The $80,000 is being divided up between three lead complainants (at $20,000 each) and the establishment of a $20,000 fund to compensate other residents who may have been subjected to unlawful racial harassment.

The case started when three African American residents at the property filed complaints asserting the owners of the apartment complex refused to investigate claims that Caucasian residents subjected them to racial harassment as well as verbal and physical assaults (including attacks by dogs). Additionally, the complainants claimed management failed to timely respond to maintenance requests of African American residents generally and that management ignored their maintenance requests specifically.

Although I do not have much in the way of facts and mindful the Respondents denied the allegations, it remains a combustible mix when residents make allegations of racial misconduct against other residents. In a typical circumstance, management should investigate – without immediately taking sides – any allegations of discrimination raised by one resident against another. Particularly here in a circumstance in which the claims included alleged physical assaults and attacks by dogs. An important component is speaking to other residents (who were not involved) in an effort to determine what took place. In more serious cases (as would appear to be the case here), management might want to call the police in an effort to determine if criminal charges could be appropriate. And if the matter involves the police, it might be time to get a lawyer like me involved to decide how best to ensure management does its investigation in a manner which respects the rights of all and while ensuring no resident is retaliated against. Indeed, there have been matters in which I was involved where management made a determination of which resident was at fault. Other times we have been unable to make a factual determination as the available evidence was inconclusive. I suspect (but do not know for certain) that part of the issue here was the perceived refusal of management to conduct an inquiry.

Finally, issues regarding maintenance requests and the timely completion of maintenance requests can typically be rebutted by running a service log. Obviously, while emergencies (such as serious water leaks) take priority and can get routed to the head of the line, routine maintenance requests should be performed in the order they are received.

Just A Thought.