HUD charges Nevada homebuilder with violation of Fair Housing Act

HUD NEWS
Department of Housing and Urban Development – Alphonso Jackson, Secretary
Office of Public Affairs, Washington, DC 20410

HUD No. 05-016
Jereon Brown
(202) 708-0685

FOR RELEASE
Wednesday
Feb. 9, 2004

HUD CHARGES NEVADA HOMEBUILDER WITH VIOLATION OF FAIR HOUSING ACT
BUILDER CANCELS CONTRACT DUE TO MOLD CONCERNS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development charged Perma-Bilt Corporation, a Nevada-based corporation, and its Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Ruth Ochoa with violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Terrell and Candra Evans and their children because of the children’s disabilities.

HUD’s investigation revealed that the Evans family children suffer from severe respiratory ailments including asthma and are hypersensitive to mold.  The Evans discussed their concerns about their children and mold with a Perma-Bilt sales agent before entering into a purchase agreement for a five-bedroom home to be built in Las Vegas.

One month after entering into the agreement, the Evans began visiting their new home site.  During one of the visits, Mrs. Evans noticed what appeared to be mold growing on two studs in the middle of the property.

Following her visit, Mrs. Evans informed Perma-Bilt of the apparent mold at the home, explained her children’s health condition and past exposure to mold, and requested that the studs be tested for mold.  Mrs. Evans was told by a Perma-Bilt representative that the home was going to be completed “as is” without being tested for mold.   This same representative told Mrs. Evans that the home could be tested for mold only after it was completed and offered to refund the money if they wanted to cancel the contract.

Perma-Bilt then cancelled the contract stating in writing,  “Perma-Bilt did not contemplate being required to build a completely mold-free or sterile home to accommodate the hypersensitivity of the Evans children.”

Evans tried to negotiate a reasonable resolution with Perma-Bilt to have the mold tested to determine if it was the type of mold that could pose a risk to the children.  The family informed Perma-Bilt that they were willing to pay half the estimated $1,000 cost to test the studs and treat and seal the mold-affected areas if necessary. Perma-Bilt refused to engage in any further dialogue and stood by the contract cancellation.

“It is difficult to imagine that out of concern for the children, and maintaining quality building standards, Perma-Bilt would not conduct the mold test,” said Carolyn Peoples, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “By refusing to grant the Evans family reasonable accommodation request that the suspected mold be tested and treated, if harmful, and by refusing to discuss any other reasonable accommodations, Perma-Bilt discriminated against the family and their children. ”
 
   Housing discrimination charges heard before an ALJ carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense in addition to actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees.  Sanctions can be more severe if the respondent has previously violated the Fair Housing Act.    If either party elects to go to federal district court, either party may request a jury trial and punitive damages.

 In either forum, a United States Department of Housing and Urban Development attorney or a Department of Justice attorney brings the case on behalf of the complainant.  Each party has the right to be represented by his or her own attorney.

HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS.  The Department also promotes economic and community development as well as enforces the nation’s fair housing laws.  More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.

People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or DOJ at 1-800-896-7743 or 202-514-4713.  Additional information is available at www.hud.gov and www.usdoj.gov.

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