Dayton newspaper, realtors settle discrimination case

PRESS RELEASE 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FURTHER INFORMATION:

JIM McCARTHY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Miami Valley Fair Housing Center

223-6279
DIGITAL PAGER: (937) 341-4325

OR

MICHAEL L. STOKES
ATTORNEY AT LAW
VOX: (419) 241-1200  

The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center (MVFHC) has settled a federal lawsuit alleging that The Dayton Daily News, Irongate Realtors and its agent, Ray J. Roudebush were engaging in acts of illegal housing discrimination based on familial status. The Complaint, Answers, Consent Decrees and Settlement Agreements in the case were all filed on October 8, 1999. The Complaint was brought by Maisha Smith, a single mother, and the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center.

The suit was filed against Irongate, Inc., dba Irongate Realty, Ray J. Roudebush, a real estate sales and leasing agent employed by Irongate, Dayton Newspapers, Inc., and the owner of the property involved.

The property that was the subject of the suit was located on Northwood Avenue in Dayton.

The complaint alleged that on or about March 25, 1999, after seeing an Irongate Realty sign on the lawn, plaintiff Maisha Smith telephoned Irongate Realty to ask about the apartment on Northwood. The woman who answered the telephone said that no smoking, children, or pets were allowed. Ms. Smith said she had a child. The woman said she would leave a message for Ray Roudebush, explaining that he might make an exception since there was only one child.

Roudebush called Ms. Smith at work and left a message asking her to call him back that evening. When Ms. Smith called back, Roudebush told her he would not rent the apartment to her, stating that "The stipulations are no smoking, no children, and no pets."

Ms. Smith was frustrated, upset and disappointed by Roudebush's refusal to rent to her and contacted the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center. The Center took Ms. Smith's complaint, told her they had been investigating the situation and would conduct additional investigations to substantiate her claims.

In addition, the Complaint alleged that on January 24, 1999, Roudebush and Irongate Realty caused the Dayton Daily News to publish an advertisement that included the wording "no smoking, pets, kids." The Complaint further alleged that from at least October 1998, the Dayton Daily News had published statements, with respect to the rental of dwellings, that indicated a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on sex and familial status in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

"This was an important case for the Fair Housing Center to bring," said Jim McCarthy, Executive Director of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center (MVFHC). "The ads in the paper and the testing evidence rendered in this case made it clear that violations of the law were occurring."

Testers employed by MVFHC also contacted Roudebush and other Irongate Realty agents inquiring about the unit advertised on Northwood. The testers were consistently given the same discriminatory information by Roudebush and multiple other Irongate agents. When the testers inquired, either by telephone or in person, about the unit they were all told that the unit was available but that "no smoking, pets or kids" were allowed.

One tester, who viewed the unit accompanied by another witness and a baby, was questioned by Roudebush about the baby. Roudebush emphasized that no children were allowed in the apartment, and allowed the tester to view the apartment only after the tester assured Roudebush that the witness and baby would be living elsewhere.

Based on the advertisement and their findings in testing, the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center (MVFHC) joined with Ms. Smith as Plaintiffs in filing the suit. Fair Housing law makes it possible not only for those directly harmed by discrimination, such as Ms. Smith, and her child, to bring suit; but also for community organizations, such as the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center to sue on behalf of the community in order to root out housing discrimination. Stephen M. Dane and Michael L. Stokes of Cooper, Walinski & Cramer, a Toledo, Ohio law firm represented the Plaintiffs. Mr. Dane specializes in representing Plaintiffs in fair housing litigation.

The federal Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress 30 years ago to forbid discrimination in the sale or rental of housing on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin. The Act was amended in 1988 to include disability or having children in the household.

The Consent Decrees filed in the case resolve all of the issues in the case against all of the defendants. Provisions of the Consent Decree with Dayton Newspapers, Inc. include that The Dayton Daily News shall: (1) use its best efforts to immediately cease publication of advertisements that violate the federal and state Fair Housing Acts; (2) work cooperatively with the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center to develop advertising screening policies that DDN will implement to avoid future violations; (3) provide $12,000 per year, for the next five years to the Fair Housing Center to assist in funding a part-time Fair Housing Center employee who will screen published advertisements and report suspected violations to the Dayton Daily News; (4) assure that each of its classified advertising employees attend a 3-hour fair housing training session once per year for the next five years, conducted by the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center; (5) amend it's publisher's statement to comply with the HUD guidelines for publisher's statements; (6) provide the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center with complimentary 1/4 page advertisements (or the equivalent thereof, as display advertisements, in more frequent intervals), free of charge, twice per month for twenty-four months; (7) provide the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center with complimentary full page public-service advertisements recognizing "Fair Housing Month" during April in the years 2000, 2001, and 2002; and (8) publish a monthly column written by the Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center, each month through December, 2000; and (9) pay $8,307.48 to Miami Valley Fair Housing Center for its reasonable costs and attorney fees.

"This settlement goes a long way toward educating Miami Valley residents about their fair housing rights," McCarthy said. "We are excited that the Dayton Daily News has stepped up to the plate and committed itself to a strong campaign of public service advertisements and fair housing education."

McCarthy noted that the advertising secured by the Consent Decrees will enable the Fair Housing Center to reach many more people that it would otherwise be able to reach through its traditional community-based education programs. "While it doesn't cost the newspaper itself as much to provide us with this level of free advertising, we estimate the value to the Center to be well over $365,000.00 over the next three years."

Provisions of the Consent Decree with Irongate, Inc. include that Irongate Realty shall: (1) immediately cease all conduct, including publication of advertisements, that violates the federal or state Fair Housing Acts; (2) work cooperatively with the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center to review any existing screening policies and implement new, more comprehensive screening policies to avoid future violations; (3) assure that each of its employees attend a 3-hour fair housing training session conducted by the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center once per year for the next three years; (4) fund the professional development of a full-color brochure detailing home-seekers' rights under the state and federal Fair Housing Acts; (5) fund an insert of at least two full-pages in the Dayton Daily News directed to Miami Valley homeseekers. The Decree calls for the insert to be included as an insert at least four times a year for the next three years and for it to inform home-seekers of their rights and responsibilities under the state and federal Fair Housing Acts; (6) pay $40,000 to Maisha Smith and the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center for undifferentiated compensatory damages and attorney fees.

"I am very pleased for Maisha Smith and her son," McCarthy said. "They didn't deserve to be discriminated against — no one should be discriminated against like this when they seek out housing for themselves and their family."

"The Fair Housing Center is very pleased that we were able to work in partnership with the Dayton Daily News and Irongate Realty to resolve this matter without lengthy litigation," McCarthy said. "Both the Dayton Daily News and Irongate negotiated in good faith and have agreed to set a proactive course of education, training, and reporting for themselves; moreover they have made substantial commitments to the Center in order to ensure that everyone in the Miami Valley is better informed — through the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center — of their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act."

The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center is a private non-profit corporation, organized under Ohio law, and incorporated in 1993. Under the direction of a 23-member volunteer board of trustees and with a paid staff of three, the Center contracts with Montgomery County, The Affordable Housing Fund, the City of Kettering and the City of Springfield to provide services that help to eliminate discriminatory housing practices. The Center works to educate the public about housing discrimination laws, discriminatory housing practices, and the availability of legal remedies for such discriminatory practices. The Center provides counseling, investigative, and referral services to the public. In addition, the Center educates housing industry professionals about fair housing law compliance through cooperative relationships with the Dayton Area Board of Realtors, the Greater Dayton Apartment Association, and the Kettering Board of Community Relations in order to expand equal housing opportunities in the Miami Valley.