Florida housing provider to pay $30,000 and receive fair housing training after turning away single mom

A Florida landlord has agreed to pay $30,000 to settle complaints of family status discrimination at his 15 rental properties throughout Palm Beach County. The settlement ends the litigation of a November 2001 federal lawsuit filed by a single mother with one child and the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, a private nonprofit fair housing enforcement and education agency.

According to the plaintiffs, landlord Roger Quisenberry refused to rent a two-bedroom apartment  to Leslie Ann Gordon-Hill and her young child. The Center investigated Gordon-Hill’s complaint by sending testers to Quisenberry’s properties. Several testers who asserted that they had young children were turned away from Quisenberry’s properties, while testers without children were not.

The Center’s tests confirmed Gordon-Hill’s allegations, and the Center assisted her in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO).

Local administrative agency and HUD issue findings in support of complainant and Center

The OEO conducted its own investigation into Quisenberry’s rental practices and issued a determination finding of “reasonable cause,” according to the Center, concluding that Quisenberry had violated the family status provisions of local fair housing laws. HUD later adopted the OEO’s finding, agreeing that Quisenberry had discriminated against families with children.

The Center and Gordon-Hill attempted to conciliate their complaints with Quisenberry, but the parties could not come to a consensus. The Center and Gordon-Hill then filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Judge Alan S. Gold presided over the case and referred it to Magistrate Judge Andrea M. Simonton for mediation in May 2002. The parties settled the case following an October mediation hearing with Mediator Steven A. Mayans. In addition to the $30,000 cash payment to the plaintiffs, Quisenberry agreed to be trained in the provisions of the Fair Housing Act. Quisenberry denied wrongdoing in the case.

When the lawsuit was filed, Fair Housing Center Vice President Bobbie Fletcher said that the complaint let landlords know what Palm Beach families wanted. “Don’t lock out our kids,” she said. Vince Larkins, the Fair Housing Center’s president, spoke out about the settlement. “This case sends a message to small residential property owners that housing discrimination against kids in Palm Beach County will not be tolerated.” Larkins said that the Center had launched a major offensive to counter housing discrimination against families with children in southern Florida. He called this case “a pivotal victory” in the Center’s campaign against family status discrimination. The Center has filed two additional family status lawsuits and has assisted the U.S. Department of Justice in a family status and race lawsuit against a southern Florida housing provider.

Properties in question were not “55 and over” Under federal and Florida housing laws, housing providers cannot refuse to rent or sell to families with children, unless a development has been specifically created to be “55 and over” housing. According to the Center, a recent Florida law requires that housing providers seeking the 55 and over exemption must register with the state of Florida. Quisenberry’s properties were not registered and did not meet the requirements to be housing for persons 55 and older.

Michael F. Amezaga, the Fair Housing Center’s litigation coordinator, represented the plaintiffs in this case. Noted civil rights attorney Avery Friedman of Cleveland, Ohio also assisted with the litigation. For more information about this case, contact the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches at (877) 910-3247 or check their web site at www.fairhousingflorida.com.

The Fair Housing Center is a nonprofit civil rights agency that conducts testing and investigation in fair housing complaints.

Fair Housing Center v. Quisenberry
Case No. 01-CV-9005
U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida
The Honorable Alan S. Gold, Judge
Complaint filed: November 16, 2001
Mediation hearing and settlement: October 1, 2002