Fair Housing Center Settles Suit Alleging Racial and Familial Status Bias

Further Information:
Jim McCarthy, Executive Director
Miami Valley Fair Housing Center
Voice: (937) 223-6035 Fax: (937) 223-6279
Digital Pager: (937) 341-4325
Or

Matthew Brownfield
Attorney at Law
Voice: (513) 977-4207

1/28/99

The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center (MVFHC) has settled a federal lawsuit alleging that the owners, operators, managers, and leasing agents of a Miamisburg Apartment Complex were discriminating on the basis of race and familial status. The suit, which was filed on May 11, 1998, alleged violations of the federal Fair Housing Act. Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Cincinnati, and one individual, Ms. Cara Miller, joined the Fair Housing Center as Plaintiffs in the action.

The suit was filed against Audene Norfleet, doing business as Norfleet Properties, Randy Norfleet, and Lisa Hoefling. The parties own multiple rental properties. Norfleet Properties is an Ohio partnership that lists its principal place of business at 9908 Springboro Pike, Miamisburg, Ohio 45342. The property that was the subject of the suit was located on Almedia Court, off Heincke Road in Miamisburg.

The complaint alleged that in September, 1997, Cara Miller contacted Audene Norfleet about an advertisement for an apartment that Ms. Miller has seen in the newspaper. Mrs. Norfleet asked Ms. Miller if the apartment was "just for her." Miller said that the apartment was for her and her daughter. Mrs. Norfleet responded by saying "Oh, well I don't want to rent to a single mother." Miller confronted Audene Norfleet about the comment and was told by Mrs. Norfleet, "Well, I wouldn't rent to a man with a child either." Ms. Miller then reported the discriminatory treatment to the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center. The Fair Housing Center took Ms. Miller's complaint and assured her that they would begin an investigation of Norfleet Properties.

"This was an important case for the Fair Housing Center to bring," said Jim McCarthy, Executive Director of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center. "The testing evidence rendered by HOME of Cincinnati in this case was clear, there were plenty of indications that violations of the law were occurring."

During 1997, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Inc. (HOME) of Cincinnati was under contract with Montgomery County to investigate complaints of housing discrimination received by the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center (MVFHC) and to provide services of fair housing testers. After receiving Cara Miller's complaint, MVFHC referred the case to HOME for testing. HOME conducted multiple tests of Norfleet Properties, and the results of the testing were consistent with the information provided by Ms. Miller.

During the testing, Audene Norfleet made an apartment available for inspection by Caucasian American testers while refusing to show the apartment to African American testers and otherwise making the apartment unavailable for rent. Also during the testing, Audene Norfleet also made the apartment unavailable to persons with children.

Specifically, on September 3, 1997, an African American male tester spoke by telephone with Audene Norfleet regarding the availability of a two-bedroom apartment that had been advertised in the newspaper. Mrs. Norfleet told the tester that she had gotten "some more calls" and asked him to call back. The tester called back on September 6, 1997 and left a message on Mrs. Norfleet's answering machine referencing the prior telephone conversation. The tester asked Mrs. Norfleet to call him back. She did not return his call.

On September 4, 1997, a Caucasian American female tester spoke by telephone with Mrs. Norfleet regarding a two-bedroom apartment for rent on Almedia Court. Mrs. Norfleet told the Caucasian tester that the apartment was available "now." Mrs. Norfleet then asked the tester who would be living in the apartment. The Caucasian tester said the apartment would be for her husband, herself, and her twin boys. The tester asked for an appointment to see the apartment. Mrs. Norfleet told the tester that she (the tester) would have to call back. The tester did call back on September 8 and September 9, and left messages on Mrs. Norfleet's answering machine. Mrs. Norfleet did not return the tester's calls.

On September 18, 1997, another Caucasian American female tester spoke by telephone with Audene Norfleet about a two-bedroom apartment located at 1546 Almedia Court. Mrs. Norfleet told the tester that she also had another two-bedroom apartment available on Central Avenue in Miamisburg. Mrs. Norfleet asked the tester who the apartment would be for, and the tester said "just for me." Mrs. Norfleet said the apartment was ready now and that the tester could move in now. The tester said that she would call back and arrange for an appointment to see the apartment. Later that day, the tester called Mrs. Norfleet again and they arranged for an appointment for the next day at 11:30 a.m.

On September 19, 1997, Mrs. Norfleet showed the apartment located at 1546 Almedia Court to the Caucasian American female tester. The apartment was labeled "B". Mrs. Norfleet gave the tester a rental agreement. Mrs. Norfleet told the tester that she did not check references. She added, "I rely on my own intuition and my intuition is that I would like to rent to you." Mrs. Norfleet also pointed out that there were no children living in the building.

That same day, an African American female tester spoke by telephone with Mrs. Norfleet about a two-bedroom apartment for rent on Almedia Court. Mrs. Norfleet told the African American tester that the apartment had been rented and that she should have taken the sign in the front yard down a long time ago.

On September 22, 1997, a Caucasian American male tester spoke by telephone with Mrs. Norfleet about a two-bedroom apartment at 1546 Almedia Court. The tester said that he would call the next day to make an appointment to see the apartment. The next day, the tester called Mrs. Norfleet and made an appointment. The tester ended up not being able to make that appointment, so on September 24, 1997, he arranged with Mrs. Norfleet to see the apartment on September 25, 1997. On September 25, 1997, the Caucasian American male tester viewed apartment "B" at 1546 Almedia Court in the presence of Mrs. Norfleet. She told the tester that he could have the apartment if he would give her a deposit. Mrs. Norfleet went on to tell the tester that she did not rent to young people, even her friends' children, because of "noisy drug parties."

On September 24, 1997, an African American female tester spoke with Mrs. Norfleet by telephone and asked whether Mrs. Norfleet had a two-bedroom apartment available. Mrs. Norfleet responded that she did not think so. The tester asked about a one-bedroom apartment. Mrs. Norfleet asked who it would be for. The tester responded that it would be for two persons. Mrs. Norfleet told the tester that she did not rent one bedroom apartments to two persons.

On September 29, 1997, a third Caucasian American female tester left a message on Mrs. Norfleet's answering machine regarding the availability of a two-bedroom apartment. That same day, Mrs. Norfleet returned the tester's call. Mrs. Norfleet asked the tester if she had children. The tester replied no. Mrs. Norfleet asked the tester how old she was. The tester responded that she was 43. Mrs. Norfleet said "I have no patience with teenagers." Mrs. Norfleet gave the tester an appointment to see the apartment the next day at 10:30 a.m. On September 30, 1997, Mrs. Norfleet showed the tester apartment "B" at 1546 Almedia Court. Mrs. Norfleet told the tester that she did not use rental applications. She said that she relied on her intuition, that she trusted her judgment. Mrs. Norfleet told the tester that the apartment was available immediately. Mrs. Norfleet offered to leave the apartment unlocked so that the tester's husband could view the apartment unescorted if he was interested.

On October 1, 1997, a second Caucasian American male tester spoke with Mrs. Norfleet by telephone and was given an appointment to see a unit at 1:30 p.m. that same day. On October 1, 1997, at about 1:30 p.m., an African American female tester arrived at 1546 Almedia Court posing as the Caucasian American male tester's wife. Mrs. Norfleet showed apartment "B" to the tester. Mrs. Norfleet was accompanied on that occasion by persons who she described as her relatives. Mrs. Norfleet told the tester that she was trying to get her relatives to rent the apartment. The tester asked if she could fill out an application. Mrs. Norfleet responded that she would not rent to the female tester without seeing both the female and male tester together. Mrs. Norfleet said that there were lots of questions she needed to ask the male tester. The female tester asked Mrs. Norfleet if the male tester could meet with Mrs. Norfleet by himself. Mrs. Norfleet said no, that "she needed to see both of them together because there were lots of other questions she needs to get straight." Mrs. Norfleet repeated that she decides on perspective tenants based on her instincts and she did not want to rent to children.

On October 2, 1997, a fourth Caucasian American female tester spoke by telephone with Mrs. Norfleet about the availability of a two-bedroom apartments. The tester volunteered that she wanted to live in the apartment with her son. Mrs. Norfleet said that maybe something might be available but that it might already be rented. Mrs. Norfleet said that she would not know for sure until the next day. Mrs. Norfleet asked how old the tester's son was. The tester responded that her son was 9 years old. Mrs. Norfleet said "well I think it's rented." The tester offered to call Mrs. Norfleet the next day to make sure. Mrs. Norfleet said "why don't I take your number and call you back?"

On October 3, 1997, a Caucasian American male tester called Mrs. Norfleet to ask about the availability of the two-bedroom apartment at 1546 Almedia Court. Mrs. Norfleet said that it was still available.

Based on their findings, the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center (MVFHC) and Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Cincinnati (HOME) joined with Ms. Miller as Plaintiffs in filing the suit. Fair Housing law makes it possible not only for those directly harmed by discrimination, such as Ms. Miller, and her child, to bring suit; but also for community organizations, such as the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center and Housing Opportunities Made Equal, to sue on behalf of the community in order to root out housing discrimination. Matthew Brownfield, an attorney in practice in Cincinnati, Ohio represented the Plaintiffs. Mr. Brownfield often represents Plaintiffs in fair housing litigation.

The complaint alleged that Audene Norfleet, doing business as Norfleet Properties, and as an agent on behalf of Randy Norfleet and Lisa Hoefling, had violated the Fair Housing Act, which 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.

Specifically, the suit alleges that Norfleet, among other things, refused on the basis of race and familial status to rent or to negotiate for the rental of dwellings, and has otherwise made unavailable or denied dwellings to persons because of their race and/or familial status.

On January 12, 1999, the parties entered into and filed a Consent Decree with the Court settling the case. Provisions of the Consent Decree include: (1) an injunction permanently enjoining Audene Norfleet, Randy Norfleet, and Lisa Hoefling from discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of rental of a dwelling or in the provision of services of facilities in connection therewith because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin; (2) an injunction permanently enjoining Audene Norfleet, Randy Norfleet, and Lisa Hoefling from refusing to rent a dwelling after the making of a bona fide offer, refusing to negotiate for the rental of, or otherwise making unavailable or denying any dwelling to any person on account of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin; (3) an injunction permanently enjoining Audene Norfleet, Randy Norfleet, and Lisa Hoefling from making, printing, or publishing, or causing to be made, printed or published, any notice, statement or advertisement with respect to the rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin, or an intention to make such preference, limitation or discrimination; (4) an injunction permanently enjoining Audene Norfleet, Randy Norfleet, and Lisa Hoefling from representing to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin that any dwelling is not available for inspection, or rental when such dwelling is in fact so available; (5) an injunction permanently enjoining Audene Norfleet, Randy Norfleet, and Lisa Hoefling from engaging in any act or practice which has the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to equal housing opportunity protected by the Fair Housing Act.

The Consent Decree also includes a provision requiring the Defendants to inform each agent and employee employed by them to fill vacancies at 1546 Almedia Court individually, or by general meeting, of the provisions of the Consent Decree, and of the duties of the Defendants and their agents and employees under the Fair Housing Act. The Decree requires that each such agent and employee be advised that her or his failure to comply with the provisions of the Consent Decree shall subject her or him to dismissal or other disciplinary action, as well as possible sanctions under the Decree.

The Consent Decree requires that the Defendants include fair housing symbols or declarations on all advertising or notices of vacancies, and requires that all newspaper advertising of apartment vacancies be done in the Dayton Daily News.

The Consent Decree further requires Audene Norfleet and any agents and employees of the Defendants who have rental and/or management responsibilities at 1546 Almedia Court to undertake an educational training program regarding their obligations under the Fair Housing Act.

The Consent Decree also contains a provision that requires the Defendants, for a period of three years, to provide to the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, on a quarterly basis, the apartment number and date of all vacancies in their Almedia Court apartments; the name, address, phone number, race, and familial status of all persons who apply in person for the vacancies; the name of the persons selected to fill the vacancies; the reason that such persons were selected; the names of the persons who were not selected to fill the vacancies; and the reasons that they were not selected.

Finally, under the terms of the Consent Decree, the Defendants admitted no liability for discrimination, but agreed to pay Forty Thousand Dollars and No Cents ($40,000.00) as compensation, attorney fees, and litigation costs and expenses incurred by the Plaintiffs.

"I am very pleased for Cara Miller and her daughter," 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 Decree attempts to set a proactive course of education, training, and reporting for the Defendants in order to bring them into full compliance with the Fair Housing Act," McCarthy said. "And in doing so, it accomplishes what the Center set out to achieve in this case," McCarthy continued. "Through affirmative relief such as the education and on-going monitoring, the Center will continue to work to realize its mission of achieving equal housing opportunity throughout the Miami Valley."

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, and the City of Kettering 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.