Florida women to pay $427,000 for lying to African-Americans and families about housing availability

The owner and former manager of a southern Florida apartment complex agreed to pay a record $427,000 to settle a Justice Department lawsuit that alleged they refused to rent to Blacks or families with children. The settlement is the largest so far in the 33 fair housing cases filed by the Justice Department in its nationwide fair housing program.

Under the settlement, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Miami, Lola Jacobson, the owner of the Village at Dadeland Apartments in Kendall, Fla., agreed to pay $50,000 to help locate the victims of discrimination at the complex, $200,000 to compensate those victims, and $125,000 to local fair housing agencies in the Kendall area. In addition, Jacobson and Eva Feinstein, the former rental manager, will pay a total of $52,000 in civil penalties and fines to the United States Treasury for their discriminatory actions.

According to the suit, both Jacobson and Feinstein lied to African-Americans and families with children about the availability of rental units at the Village at Dadeland. By misleading these apartment seekers, the Village at Dadeland violated their rights under the Fair Housing Act.

After receiving complaints of both racial and family status discrimination throughout southern Florida, the Justice Department launched an investigation. The Justice Department used testers to uncover evidence of a pattern of discrimination at the Village at Dadeland and other complexes. The Department later filed lawsuits against seven southern Florida complexes. The settlement with the Village at Dadeland was the first in Florida.

During the investigation, the Department of Justice contracted with Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence (HOPE), Inc., a local fair housing organization in the Miami area. The Justice Department used testers trained by HOPE to investigate the alleged discrimination.

The $125,000 portion of the settlement intended to fund rental clinics in southern Florida will go to HOPE. According to the Justice Department, the rental clinics which HOPE will operate are intended to give home seekers "a true, nondiscriminatory choice in housing and will provide information about all of the rental options available in the community."

Deval L. Patrick, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, said, "No Americans should ever be denied homes due to the color of their skin." He said that the settlement against Jacobson and Feinstein was the largest settlement against an individual apartment complex.

Patrick went on to say that the Justice Department's fair housing testing program has produced 33 fair housing lawsuits which have resulted in 18 settlements and judgements totaling more than $2.4 million in monetary relief for damages, penalties, and promoting fair housing.