Bias complaint against Westport landlord results in record settlement

Contact: Joe Wincze, President, Fair Housing Association of Connecticut, 45 Lyon Terrace, Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604 – (203) 576-8323

1/9/2001

When Mary Ann West responded in the Spring of 1999 to an ad in the Westport News regarding a one-bedroom apartment for rent, she was hurt and upset to learn the landlord would not accept her as a tenant because she had a 12-year-old daughter. She was so upset, in fact, that she decided to file a housing discrimination complaint with the Connecticut Commission On Human Rights and Opportunities.  Well last month, approximately a year and a half later, the complaint paid off---and it paid off big to the tune of $24,000.00!  This was the amount of the settlement paid out to Ms. West and her attorneys which is reportedly a record amount for a housing complaint filed with the Commission.

With $19,200.00 to be paid directly to the complainant and $4,800.00 paid for attorney’s fees, the settlement was negotiated between MetLife Auto and Home Insurance and the complainant’s attorneys who were from the Civil Rights Clinic of the University of Connecticut Law School. MetLife provides homeowner’s insurance to the landlord in this case (Alex Rahav of Westport) in the administrative claims and pursuant to a contract of insurance that gives MetLife the right to settle claims against Rahav with or without the latter’s consent. The agreement states that there is no admission of wrongdoing or liability by Rahav.

Whether there is an admission of wrongdoing or not does not overly concern Ms. West, however, since she is now at last able to receive some measure of compensation for the pain and suffering she has undergone after her and her daughter were forced to search for alternative housing. According to Ms. West’s affidavit, Mr. Rahav was very abrupt in his refusal to rent to her when she called on May 29, 1999 to inquire about the unit being advertised. “No kids!” he is alleged to have said. When Ms. West insisted her daughter was very mature and well-behaved, Mr. Rahav is claimed to have responded that he has seven units all occupied by adults “and they wouldn’t be comfortable with a kid”.

Ms. West stated, “Despite the money, there is no amount of financial compensation that will lessen the pain and damages caused to my daughter after overhearing the conversation with Rahav. She came up to me later and apologized for being a kid, because with a kid, finding housing was more difficult. That is just not acceptable.”

Ms. West was assisted in filing her complaint by Joe Wincze-President of the Fair Housing Association of Connecticut. His organization was also responsible for conducting tests as a means of gathering valuable evidence in the case which presumably led the Commission On Human Rights and Opportunities to make a CAUSE FINDING against Mr. Rahav in their belief that a discriminatory act had been committed. Wincze indicated he was very pleased with the settlement received by the complainant and pointed out that Ms. West deserved the compensation she got. “As it turned out Ms. West and her daughter had to search for other housing and when they finally did find a unit to move into; the unit was more costly, farther away from her job, and required her to climb up four flights of stairs which aggravated a knee condition. More than likely if an agreement had been reached earlier, shortly after the filing of the complaint and prior to a CAUSE FINDING by the Commission, the settlement would have been considerably less because the damages would have been less.”

Wincze further stated that oftentimes when a case drags on for a long period of time, the complainant may become frustrated and either drop their complaint or settle for a low sum of money. “It didn’t happen in this case”, Wincze said for two reasons:” 1) Ms. West’s resistant personality where she did not allow herself to become discouraged and 2) she had very capable legal representation by the Civil Rights Clinic of the UConn Law School who negotiated an excellent settlement on behalf of their client”. (The Civil Rights Clinic is a program which law students, under faculty supervision, represent clients in discrimination cases. Ms. West was represented by law students Meredith Wilson and Brandon Freeman under the supervision of Professor Paul Chill and Elizabeth McCormick.)