Black Couple Sues Neighbor, Homeowners Assoc. for Harassment

Jan. 28, 1999

Shirley Dunbar Doka, Mohammed Doka and the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington will file a suit in U.S. District Court for the State of Maryland this Thursday morning against Greencastle Lakes Community Association Inc. (Greencastle Lakes), The Management Group Associates Inc. (Management), and John S. Tuma, seeking redress for racial harassment that has placed the Dokas and their children at risk of physical harm. perpetuated against the Dokas by neighbor John Tuma, and despite numerous steps they could have taken to discipline Tuma, Greencastle Lakes and Management did nothing to stop the ongoing harassment.

"Homeowner's Associations, like Greencastle Lakes, have an obligation under the Fair Housing Act to take all reasonable steps to stop racial harassment within their community. We believe that Greencastle Lakes' failure to take any steps to protect the Dokas violated the requirements of the federal fair housing laws," explained John Relman Esq., director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee's Fair Housing Project.

Mr. and Mrs. Doka, an African American couple, are homeowners at the Greencastle Lakes Community in Burtonsville, Md. John Tuma, their neighbor, is white. In 1997, Tuma harassed the Dokas in a letter criticizing the appearance of a fence they were constructing around their yard to protect their children from traffic on a road adjacent to their property. In this letter, Tuma denounced the Dokas' "offensive lifestyle," stating that "(their) heritage would not allow (them) to grasp the disappointment my family...feels" Tuma's letter concluded that the "saddest lesson" is that "(a) black family moves in next door and then slowly destroys their home." Tuma also said that if any of the Dokas to step foot onto his property would "suffer the consequences."

The Dokas, fearful for their children's safety and their own in light of this threat, contacted the Police and the Greencastle Lakes Board of Directors about this letter. The Board characterized the situation as a dispute between neighbors and refused to involve itself in the matter.

For more than a year following, and continuing into the present, Tuma has waged a campaign of harassment against the Dokas, intended to drive them out of the community. In addition to verbal harassment and threats, Tuma has, on at least 16 separate occasions, dumped debris and dead animals on the Dokas' property, including dead crows, squirrels and mice, razor blades, shards of broken glass, nails, and empty beer and vodka bottles.

"Hate crimes, racial and sexual harassment, and housing discrimination represent intimidating and real issues in the Greater Washington area. We hope, by filing this case, to encourage others who have encountered racial harassment and intimidation to come forward and pursue their civil rights. Further, we call upon policy-makers to work with the Fair Housing Council to expand the "safety net" for victims of housing discrimination and to begin a pro-active public education program celebrating our communities diversity and expanding knowledge about fair housing laws," stated David Berenbaum, Fair Housing Council executive director.

The Dokas reported Tuma's harassment and dumping to the Management Group, and later advised both the Management Group and the Board in writing of Tuma's ongoing and extreme violation of their civil rights. The Management Group continued to characterize the situation as a dispute among neighbors and the Board never responded to the Dokas' letters, and further stated that the Board had no obligation to respond to the Dokas' complaints.

However, under Greencastle Lake's by-laws, the Association could have employed an array of enforcement actions against Tuma, including: investigating the Dokas' complaints and taking steps to prevent further trespass; removing the debris from the Dokas' lot and passing the costs for doing so to Tuma as a lien upon his property; imposing monetary fines and withdrawing Tuma's permission to use common areas; and ultimately, bringing legal action.

"For the Dokas and countless other victims of hate crimes in our nation each year, the concept of 'justice' and 'home' seem far removed in the face of extreme acts of bigotry and the isolation engendered by the belief that those responsible for ensuring a homeowners or tenants quiet enjoyment of their home will not take any affirmative steps to ensure their fair housing rights," observed David Berenbaum, Fair Housing Council executive director.

The suit alleges that, through their knowledgeable inaction, the Association and the Management Group ratified Tuma's racial harassment of the Dokas and fostered a racially hostile environment, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

"This lawsuit tells perpetrators of racial violence and hatreds that their actions will not be quietly tolerated. It sends a clear messages to Homeowners Associations and management companies that they will be held accountable to their legal responsibility to protect their members and communities from racial harassment. Those who are steadfast in their commitment to create and maintain open communities will not allow the racial hatred of a few, compounded by the inaction of the many, to foster racial division in our community," concluded Michael D. Mitchell Esq., director of the Fair Housing Center of Suburban Maryland.

A copy of the complaint can be obtained by contacting the Fair Housing Council at 202-289-5360.