Ignorance proves costly for New York rental agency

Contact: Joe Wincze, Fair Housing Association of Connecticut

(Bridgeport, CT, Dec. 07, 2004) "Ignorance is no excuse for violating the law" is a common expression which certainly rings true for a New York firm when they denied a Bridgeport, CT woman an opportunity to rent an apartment this past February. The woman was denied because she did not have cash upfront for security deposit. Because Godspeed OK, LLC of Whitestone, New York was not familiar with Connecticut law which protects tenants disciminated against because of their 'source of income', they were unaware it was wrong to refuse to rent to Kim Ward because she was a participant in the state's Security Deposit Guarantee Program. This is a program available to certain eligible Connecticut tenants who lack the funds to pay upfront security deposits and provides, instead, a guarantee to the landlord to make payment for damages or unpaid rent following the conclusion of tenancy rather than at the outset.

According to Ms. Ward's sworn statement, she was informed by a representative from Godspeed that it was company policy to get cash up front for security deposit. She was told she was qualified to rent the apartment but the 'Guarantee' was not cash and she needed to pay the money now before moving into the unit. When Ms. Ward tried to explain that the state 'Guarantee' was as good as cash, she was told it was unacceptable and they could not rent to her without cash.

Upon being refused, Ms. Ward subsequently contacted the City of Bridgeport's Fair Housing Office where she received assistance in filing a formal complaint with the CT Commission On Human Rights & Opportunities. Following a Cause Finding by CHRO in September, a settlement was reached between the parties which provided for a payment of $4,000 to Ms. Ward. Although there was no admission of liability by Godspeed, Ms. Ward is satisfied that justice was done. Better yet, she now has some spending money just in time for the holiday season.

Joe Wincze- Director of the Bridgeport Fair Housing Office- gives credit to Ms. Ward's attorney, Alan Rosner of Bridgeport, for being able to work out a satisfactory settlement for his client. Wincze also points out two big mistakes made by Godspeed in this case. First, when a company does business in another state, they have an obligation to familiarize themselves with the various laws of that state. Not knowing something was illegal does not mean much when a complaint has been filed. Godspeed's second mistake was to drag the matter out for several months rather than confessing immediately to an act of ignorance. By waiting till CHRO made an official Cause Finding that discrimination took place did not help their bargaining position and only served to better document their apparent discriminatory actions.