The Marin Fair Housing Program in California has settled two family discrimination cases for a total of $20,750. The owners of the Pines Apartments, a San Rafael, rental property, agreed to pay $17,500 in April to settle a housing discrimination suit alleging child discrimination, according to Nancy Kenyon, Director of the Fair Housing Program of the Marin Housing Center. The private lawsuit was brought against the property owners by a Latino husband and wife with two children, who were not given the opportunity to rent the two bedroom Pines apartment in San Rafael.
The complainant, who has asked that his last name remain confidential, responded to a "For Rent" sign on the building on March 31, 1993. When the man showing the unit asked him if there were children in his family, Jose was told that the "boss only wants to rent to two people." When Jose asked the man if he thought the owner was discriminating, the man replied that he had just rented the apartment to another man and accepted his check.
Unsure If Discrimination Because of Origin or Family
Outraged, but unsure if he had been discriminated against because of his national origin or because of his children, Jose contacted the Fair Housing Program, who informed him of his rights under federal and state fair housing laws and conducted an investigation. The first investigation, for discrimination based on his Latino ancestry, did not uncover evidence of discrimination. However, a second investigation corroborated evidence of discrimination against families with children.
Three investigators from the Fair Housing Program visited the complex. The first was told by the owner that the two bedroom unit was not big enough for her family of four, after she mentioned having two children. When she responded that she and her husband were accustomed to living in a small two-bedroom apartment where her young children shared a bedroom, the owner replied that the unit was too dangerous for small children because of its location.
The second investigator, who also made known to the owner that she had children, made a specific appointment to view the unit. The owner failed to keep the appointment and when she called to reschedule, he told her to call back in two weeks as he had accepted a check from a prospective tenant. The third investigator, reporting a family composition of four adults, was told by the owner that a lot of people with children had seen the apartment, but that he did not want to rent to them because of safety problems.
When informed of the results of the investigation, Jose told the Fair Housing Program that he was not going to accept the fact that he was being discriminated against, and with the Program's support he filed a private lawsuit. Nancy Kenyon, Fair Housing Program Director, commented on the importance of his action: "very often people from other countries are reluctant to pursue their rights by using the legal system which has in their past experience worked against them. "
Peter Lomhoff, attorney for the complainant, said: "This case shows the value of persistent, intelligent testing. When the complainant's initial suspicion of national origin discrimination was not substantiated, testing for child discrimination was tried and corroborated."
Marin-Oaks Apartments Pays $3,250
In another case, the owner of a rental property in Novato, Neal Rose, agreed to pay damages of $2,500 to a complainant in a housing discrimination suit alleging child discrimination, filed with HUD. In addition, the owner agreed to pay $750 in civil penalties and to attend fair housing law training.
The suit was brought by Deanna Miles, who with her husband and two young children, rented an apartment at the Oaks Apartments in Novato. Mrs. Miles was told by the manager that the base rent for the two-bedroom apartment was $775 per month, but because there were four people in her family, the rent would be $875. The complainant, Mrs. Miles, asked "isn't it unusual to determine the amount of rent by the size of the family?" The manager said "that's the way the owners want it."
HUD issued a charge of discrimination alleging that the policy of charging an additional $100 rent for each additional occupant in excess of three constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of familial status (the presence of children in the family) and is a violation of the Federal Act.
When contacted about the settlement, Deanna Miles said she "is genuinely pleased that my experience may dissuade other owners from imposing occupancy charges." Nancy Kenyon, Director of the Fair Housing Program, said she hopes Deanna's experience "encourages other renters to come forward with similar complaints."