Administrative Law Judge Heinz approves settlements in race and family cases

The owners and managers of North Hill Square Apartments, a 464-unit apartment complex in Jackson, Mississippi, agreed to pay $11,000 to Lori Greer, a Black tenant who tried more than a dozen times to move into a larger apartment, to settle allegations that they maintained a policy of racially segregating their tenants into different buildings.

Greer lived in a one-bedroom apartment at North Hill Square. In October 1992, Greer asked if she could move into a two-bedroom apartment. She said that she was willing to pay the higher rent for the additional space. Although the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company of Newark, the owners of North Hill Square, and Tower Commercial Corporation, the complex's managers, allowed tenants to transfer to different apartments, Greer was never allowed to move. For more than a year, Greer contacted the management office at least once a month and asked when she would be able to transfer to a larger apartment. Property managers lied to Greer on several occasions, claiming there were no apartments available.

An investigation launched by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) showed that, during Greer's tenancy, North Hill Square Apartments were racially segregated. White tenants occupied units in the front of the complex while Black tenants were steered to the back of the complex. White apartment-seekers were shown apartments in the front of the complex. Prospective Black tenants were shown units in the back of the complex. At the time she filed her complaint, Greer lived in the back of the complex.

On November 8, 1995, after more than a year of trying to get a larger apartment with no success, Greer filed a complaint of racial discrimination with HUD. After completing an investigation, HUD issued a Charge of Discrimination against Mutual Benefit Life and Tower Commercial.

HUD Administrative Law Judge Thomas Heinz heard evidence in the initial hearing. After hearing Judge Heinz's initial findings, both Mutual Benefit Life and Tower Commercial decided to settle. Judge Heinz approved the Consent Order on June 12, with $11,000 going to Greer and $1,000 to HUD.

Judge Heinz also entered a settlement in a family status lawsuit in August. The owners and managers of Highland Court Apartments, a Portland, Oregon complex, agreed to pay $5,000 to settle claims that they discriminated against Theresa Graham, Lisa Graham, and Lisa's young daughter, Fiona, by refusing to rent an apartment to them.

On July 12, 1994, the Grahams went to the rental office at Highland Court Apartments and asked if they would be able to rent a unit there. One of the property managers in the office advised the Grahams that Highland Court did not rent to families with children. The Grahams filed a complaint with HUD in October 1994. HUD issued a Charge of Discrimination on May 2, 1996. Both parties agreed to a settlement before any evidence was presented to Judge Heinz.

Under the settlement, Highland Court will pay $2,500 to the Grahams and $2,500 in civil penalties to HUD. Judge Heinz also ordered the owners and managers of Highland Court to attend fair housing training sessions. Heinz also ordered the respondents to give a written notice to each Highland Court tenant stating that it is the policy of Highland Court Apartments to rent to persons of all ages, including families with children. Heinz ordered the notice to be posted on each tenant's door at the apartment complex.

Highland Court denied any wrongdoing.

HUD v. Mutual Benefit Life
HUD ALJ 04-94-0053-8
Filed with HUD -- 11-8-95
HUD Charge Issued -- 3-9-96
ALJ Hearing -- 6-12-96
Order -- 6-12-96