Buffalo Home Settles Three Housing Discrimination Suits Involving More Than 500 Area Apartments

In March Buffalo's Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) announced the resolution of three separate fair housing complaints involving more than 500 units at the Kensington Village Apartments, the Amberleigh retirement Community, and properties at sever al locations owned by Donald J. Reeves.

In July of 1989 HOME received information that the Kensington Village Apartments was using a rental application which made illegal inquiries of applicants in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law, and that the complex was engaging in rental pra ctices that illegally limited the housing opportunities of families with children. Kensington Village contains 126 apartments.

HOME informed property manager, Paula Caruso, of the alleged violations and several problems were resolved. However, Kensington Village refused to delete the illegal inquiries from its application form. HOME filed an administrative complaint in 1990 wi th the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR). The complaint charged the Godfrey Weinstein Trust (owners of Kensington Village) and the property manager with housing discrimination because of age.

DHR found that there was probable cause to believe that the Human Rights Law had been violated. In January of 1995, five years after the complaint was filed, the respondent agreed to a settlement. In an Order After Stipulation the respondents agreed not to restrict families with children to first floor apartments or to refuse to permit children of opposite sexes to share a bedroom.

In 1988, an alert HOME member reported seeing a sign advertising "Senior Citizen discounts" on a Buffalo apartment building owned by Donald J. Reeves. Mr. Reeves had either total or majority ownership of at least 96 Buffalo area apartments.

HOME investigated, and, in addition to the advertisement that appeared to express a preference based on age, discovered that D.J. Reeves staff used a rental application that asks several illegal questions prohibited by the State Human Rights Law. HOME 's attempts to conciliate this case proved unsuccessful, with Mr. Reeves also refusing to change his rental policies.

HOME filed an administrative complaint with DHR charging D.J. Reeves with housing discrimination based on age and marital status. DHR found probable cause to believe that discrimination had occurred, and scheduled a public hearing. Before the hearing, however, the parties agreed to a settlement in February. In the Order the respondent agreed to revise his rental application to comply with the law, to write a tenant selection policy, and to have each employee or agent sign a written non-discrimination policy.

In 1991, HOME began a year-long investigation triggered by Amberleigh advertisements using only white human models. Over that year, HOME monitored Amberleigh advertisements (including television commercials) portraying life at the complex, and found no advertisements containing anything but white models.

HOME also secured print ads and promotional materials that showed that Amberleigh consistently used phrases such as "active, healthy seniors," and "the active retiree." These terms implied that Amberleigh was not suitable housing for seniors with infirmi ties or disabilities. The agency also discovered that Amberleigh's rental application required that applicants' doctors provide detailed information regarding their mental and physical health and an assessment regarding their ability to live independentl y. Amberleigh contains 288 units.

In 1992, HOME filed an administrative complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charging the complex with discrimination because of race and handicap. In its complaint HOME charged that the use of exclusively white mod els in Amberleigh's ads and promotional materials indicated a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, and acted to discourage African-Americans and other minorities from applying for housing. HOME also charged that the text of ads and p romotional materials acted to discourage those with handicaps from applying for housing.

In addition to the provisions cited above, the orders and conciliation agreements (which do not constitute any admission of wrong doing) require respondents to undertake specified affirmative actions and to make cash payments to HOME.