Bucks County Surcharges Cost Over $72,000

The United State Department of Justice won a victory in federal court that strikes down a housing provider's practice of charging rents according to the number of occupants in a dwelling. On November 23, 1994, in the Third District Court in Philadelphia , federal Judge Bartel ruled in U. S. vs. Melody Lakes Country Club Estates. He found that the manufactured housing community's practice of imposing a $75.00 surcharge for each occupant over the number of two in a household was begun intentionally to dis criminate against families with children and that this violates federal fair housing law.

Melody Lakes, a community of 353 manufactured homes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, had a history of discriminating against families with children, according to Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney Frederick Rivera. When Mr. Quick, the managing general partner, purchased the community in 1972, it was being run as an adult community, with a rule that no one under 35 years of age was allowed without permission.

He continued operating the community that way and began charging $20.00 per resident above the number two in a single household. In 1987, Mr. Quick sent a letter to all residents saying that although there had been some exceptions made in the past, and that some children did reside there currently, his intention was to keep Melody Lakes an adult community.

After the 1988 amendments to the Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate against families with children, the Melody Lakes owner did not remove the rule; nor did he change his policies. In 1990 a woman attempting to sell her home in the community tried to place an advertisement in a Bucks County newspaper for home in an "adult park." The newspaper informed her that she could not state this, and referred her to HUD. The woman then called the Melody Lakes office, and the resident manager told her to place the ad without the statement, but to screen for children herself. In 1992, Mr. Quick raised the surcharge to $75 for each additional person over the "allowed" two.

Judge Bartel found that the owner's surcharge constituted intentional discrimination against families with children. The judge said there was a historical pattern of discrimination, citing as reference a United State Supreme Court case, Rogers vs. Lodge, which held that a history of discriminatory practices can be used to prove intent to discriminate. DOJ Attorney Rivera said that since Mr. Quick testified that he was aware of the law, and could no longer publicize that Melody Lakes was an adult communi ty, he had to "invent a new way" to screen out children. Judge Bartel ordered the defendant to pay a civil penalty of $10,000 and to refund surcharges collected since 1990. The total to be refunded is between $72,000 and $82,000.

By Jan Chadwick and Sharon Kellaher of Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia