The former owners of Tropicana Apartments in Miami, Florida, recently paid $100,000 to settle charges they misrepresented the availability of apartments and denied rentals to African-Americans.
The federal suit arose out of the experience of Traci Webster, an African-American woman who asked about apartments at Tropicana in 1990. She was told by the rental agent, Sylvia Neft, that no apartments were available at that time. Suspecting that this was untrue, Ms. Webster contacted Miami's Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc., (HOPE). HOPE was already familiar with Tropicana. In connection with a federally-sponsored nationwide program of systemic testing for housing discrimination, HOPE had conducted systemic testing at Tropicana and had found evidence of discrimination.
New Evidence of Discrimination
However, because of restrictions connected with the government's testing program, HOPE was not free to pursue enforcement actions on the basis of those tests. When HOPE received Ms. Webster's complaint, it tested Tropicana again as part of its normal testing and enforcement activities, and again discovered evidence of discrimination.
HOPE, two African-American testers, and Ms. Webster filed suit against the owner of Tropicana; Florida East Coast Properties, Inc. (FECP); FECP'S principals, Tibor and Sheila Hollo; and Ms. Neft.
In December 1993, on the eve of trial, the defendants agreed to pay $100,000 to settle the claims. HOPE has been instrumental in uncovering and resolving unlawful housing practices in several recent instances, and it is currently involved in a number of lawsuits where it expects similarly favorable results.
The National office of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law served as counsel for the plaintiffs, along with the Miami-based law firm Holland & Knight. The Lawyers' Committee is also involved as counsel in some of the other HOPE suits and is available to provide similar services for fair housing organizations nationwide.