Syracuse family forced to stay in a shelter receives $12,000 after being denied an apartment

Longley-Jones Management Corporation, the company that owns and manages Elm Hill West Apartments in Syracuse, New York, agreed to pay $12,000 to settle a claim that they refused to rent an apartment to a single mother with four children. The woman rec eived a $12,000 cash settlement. She was assisted by the Fair Housing Council of Central New York, Legal Services of Central New York, and the US Attorney's office for the Northern District of New York.

At the time that the complainant sought an apartment at Elm Hill West, she was living at Vera House, a shelter for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. Because Longley-Jones rejected her application for a three-bedroom apartment, she and her children were forced to endure a longer stay at the cramped shelter.

The complainant originally called Legal Services with her complaint of discrimination. Legal Services contacted the Fair Housing Council, asking the Council to launch an investigation into the rental practices of Elm Hill West. The Fair Housing Council's volunteer testers went undercover to get evidence of discrimination at Elm Hill West.

The testers, posing as prospective tenants, discovered that the apartment complex did maintain an occupancy policy that would not allow a family of more than four persons to rent a three-bedroom apartment. This policy violated US Department of Housing and urban Development (HUD) occupancy standard guidelines that state two persons-per-bedroom is a reasonable policy.

Legal Services, on behalf of the complainant and the Fair Housing Council, filed a complaint of family status discrimination with HUD in March 1994. HUD launched an investigation following the complaint. It's investigators reported that there was probable cause to believe that violations of the Fair Housing Act had occurred at Elm Hill West Apartments.

In May 1995, the US Attorney for the Northern District of New York filed suit against Longley-Jones on behalf of HUD. When the Fair Housing Act is violated, the United States has the option to become the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the violator. Ron Van Norstrand, the attorney from Legal Services who represented the complainant, filed a motion with the court to intervene, so that the single mother would also be a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The 1988 amendments to the Fair Housing Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of familial status or disability. The familial status provisions protect families with children under the age of 18, pregnant women, and anyone in the process of securing legal custody of a child under the age of 18.

Longley-Jones agreed to settle the case in March 1996. In addition to the monetary settlement, the consent order includes an injunction against Elm Hill West's overly restrictive occupancy policy and requires Longley-Jones employees to receive fair housing training from the Fair Housing Council.

Merrilee Witherell, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of Central New York, said that settlements like this are "a step in the right direction" for the fair housing movement. She added, "Longley-Jones is a big player in the Syracuse area. We were pleased with this settlement."