Durham housing claims settled

In a record agreement with the federal government, a Durham apartment complex has agreed to pay $125,000 in damages and penalties to settle six housing-discrimination complaints.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the settlement Thursday with Hazard Cannon and Roehampton Investments Inc. of Palm Park Apartments off Leon Street.

Under the agreement, Cannon and Roehampton will pay $42,500 in civil penalties to the U.S. Department of Justice and $82,500 to six families who allege they were discriminated against because of their race and because they had children. The settlement averages out to about $13,750 a family.

Cannon owned the 322-unit apartment complex until 1975, when he sold it to Roehampton, an investment company based in the Netherlands. Cannon continued to manage the property.

The department filed the complaint in November and said the settlement is the largest ever obtained in a North Carolina housing-discrimination complaint.

Under the agreement, neither Cannon nor Roehampton admitted to housing discrimination.

Cannon is one of three men who unsuccessfully sued the Durham County Commissioners and the former city and county school boards last year to stop merger of the former Durham city and county schools. He could not be reached for comment.

The complaint alleged that since January 1990, Cannon and Roehampton have refused to rent to blacks and families with children in some areas of the sprawling apartment complex.

They also have told blacks and families with children that some apartments were not available when they actually were, according to the complaint. The complaint also alleged that Cannon and Roehampton barred families with children from living in upper-floor apartments and restricted the number of apartments available to children over the age of 5.

"The United States' primary objective in this case was to ensure that the victims of the discrimination received fair compensation for the injuries they suffered," James P. Turner, acting assistant attorney in charge of the Civil Rights Division, said in a news release Thursday.

"We believe this settlement achieves this goal and sends an important message that it is not only illegal to violate the fair housing laws, but also expensive," Turner said.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, disabilities or familial status.

The city also has a similar ordinance.

The settlement also requires Cannon and Roehampton to comply with the fair-housing laws in the future and to take actions designed to comply with the laws.

The Department of Justice recommended that Cannon and Roehampton undergo fair-housing training and adopt written fair housing policies and new occupancy standards.

Cannon and Roehampton also will be required to report rental activity to the federal government on a regular basis.

The settlement follows a city Human Relations Commission investigation into complaints of alleged discrimination at Palm Park.

The commission filed a petition in Durham County Superior Court in 1991 to obtain the leasing records after Cannon refused both a formal request and an administrative subpoena for the information.

Cannon said in a 1991 interview with The Herald-Sun that he refused to re lease the records because he did not believe the commission had a legitimate case. He said the commission only wanted to get its "fingers in everybody's business."

Commission officials said then that the records would be used to determine whether a pattern of discrimination existed at the apartment complex. Also in the 1991 interview, Cannon acknowledged that the apartment complex tried to separate senior citizens, single tenants and families with children.

But he said Palm Park did not discriminate against blacks and that there were no attempts to segregate blacks and whites at the apartment complex.

But later in the interview, Cannon said "we do have one area where we place blacks, but they're not restricted to that area only."

Dan Love Jr., a compliance administrator with the city Human Relations Commission, said. housing complaints reached a record high 27 in Durham last year.

"This is the most we've had since I've been here and I been here for seven years," Love said.

Of the 27 complaints, settlements in which citizens received monetary awards or were allowed to move into apartments were reached in 10, Love said.

Love said 14 were closed administratively because the complainants refused to cooperate.

He said "no probable cause" to investigate was ruled in two of the complaints and one complaint is still pending court action.