Council complaints result in 42 charges of housing discrimination

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Santa Ana, California - Feb. 7, 2000 - The Fair Housing Council of Orange County announced today that nine complaints it filed with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) have resulted in HUD issuing 42 charges of housing discrimination. The complaints, filed a little over two years ago, were made against the Orange County-based Yoder-Shrader Management Company Inc. The complaints alleged that Yoder-Shrader discriminated against families with children and on the basis of race and national origin. Following an extensive 10-month investigation, HUD agreed that there was sufficient evidence to issue charges of discrimination in connection with 8 of the 9 complaints. Because fair housing law holds property owners liable for the action of their managers, the charges name the owners of the complexes involved, as well as Yoder-Shrader and some of its on-site managers.

"Although the process took a long time, we are quite pleased with the result. Our own investigation, using testers posing as possible renters, showed strong evidence of discriminatory housing practices. Because these practices appeared to have been company wide it was important to have a full investigation of Yoder-Shrader’s business practices.” said Elizabeth Martin, an attorney and the agency's Director of Litigation, commenting on the outcome of HUD’s work.

In total, HUD issued 42 separate charges, involving 33 different respondents, covering the eight separate properties. The charges state that the respondents discriminated on the basis of familial status (households with minor children), race and national origin. A complaint about a ninth complex did not result in a charge; but neither did HUD issue a ‘no cause’ finding, which would have meant they found no evidence of discrimination.

The Fair Housing Council began investigating Yoder-Shrader after being contacted by a
resident of The Pines Apartments, located in Fullerton, regarding housing difficulties he was experiencing, that he felt were based on his national origin. Ironically, the investigation of that tenant’s particular circumstance did not result in a complaint of discrimination involving him. But, the initial testing uncovered possible discriminatory practices, leading Fair Housing to investigate further. When additional testing also showed apparent discriminatory practices, Fair Housing decided to test all 11 properties managed by Yoder-Shrader. A total of 26 tests, using two testers each, were done,

Attorney Martin, commenting on the magnitude of the problem uncovered said “although not unheard of, this case was somewhat unusual in that we uncovered a fairly large management operation that appears to have had a corporate culture that accepted, if not encouraged, discrimination.”

After conducting the tests, Fair Housing filed the complaints alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act. The complaints alleged that families with children were either denied housing or segregated in specific areas of the complexes. They furthered alleged that minority applicants were either denied housing or given false and misleading information about unit availability because of their race or national origin, or in the event they obtained housing, that they were treated differently.

Rather than proceeding with a lawsuit in federal court, Fair Housing decided to file with HUD, given HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo’s stated objective of doubling housing discrimination enforcement by his department. The announcement of the filing and the initiation of HUD’s investigation took place at a HUD organized press conference on January 15, 1998, the 69th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth. Secretary Cuomo participated in the press conference via satellite.

Specifically, the charges cover issues of refusing to rent or negotiate to rent an apartment, imposing different terms, conditions or privileges with respect to a rental, making statements that improperly indicate a preference, limitation or discrimination based on protected characteristics, and falsely representing that apartments were not available because of those characteristics

Given the number of charges, the total number of respondents and a possible civil penalty of up to $11,000 per charge per respondent, if all respondents were ordered to pay the full civil penalty for each and every charge, the total penalty could exceed $2.4 million. Respondents could also be ordered to pay damages to the Fair Housing Council and to engage in other remedial actions aimed at undoing the harm done to the community and helping prevent future instances of housing discrimination.

Of the eight apartment complexes, seven are in Fullerton and one is in Buena Park. In total they comprise 1177 units. The Fullerton complexes are Nutwood East and Moonraker Apartments, both on Nutwood Ave., El Dorado Apartments on Madison Ave., Sturbridge Village Apartments on Yorba Linda Blvd., Idylwood Apartments on Brea Blvd., The Pines Apartments on Topaz Lane and the Kashmir Apartments on Union Ave. The Buena Park complex is Elmwood Apartments, located on Western Ave. Each complex is owned by a different combination of owners, with some amount of overlap in ownership between some of the complexes. Many of the ownership entities are trusts and partnerships with connections to Ervin E. Yoder, Jr. and Varnie J. Shrader, the principals in Yoder-Shrader.

The federal Fair Housing Act, upon which HUD’s action is based, became law in 1968 and initially outlawed housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The Act’s protections have been expanded twice. In 1974, discrimination based on sex was outlawed. In 1988, Congress made it illegal to discriminate against families with children or on the basis of handicap.

The Fair Housing Council of Orange County is a private non-profit organization formed in 1965 in the wake of the civil rights movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Council incorporated in 1968, the same year that Congress extended civil rights protections to cover housing with the adoption of the Fair Housing Act. Under the direction of a 12-member volunteer board of directors and with a paid staff of 11, it works to fulfill a mission of reducing and eventually eliminating housing discrimination in Orange County. Contracting with all of Orange County's local governments to provide fair housing services for their residents, it handles about 800 issues concerning housing discrimination in the county each year.