First Arizona advertising case settled for $90,000

In February, an Arizona landlord accused of illegally discriminating against families withchildren and a newspaper that published ads for the landlord's complex agreed to a $90,000settlement. The settlement ended a federal complaint filed by the Tucson-based SouthernArizona Housing Center and the Bajus family.

The settlement is reportedly the firstfair housing settlement reached with an Arizona newspaper accused of running ads violatingthe Fair Housing Act's 1988 amendments. The $75,000 cash portion of the settlement is thelargest amount paid to settle a family status complaint in Arizona, according to theCenter.

Landlord Nick Novasic agreed to pay $64,000 to the Housing Center and to Frank andBarbara Bajus. The Bajuses have two sons, aged five and three. Novasic did not admitwrongdoing.

Wick Communications, the parent company of the Sierra Vista Herald, agreed topay $11,000 to the complainants. In addition to Wick's cash settlement, the company agreedto publish free fair housing ads twice per week and to publish an informational fairhousing article once per month for one year. The estimated cost of the free advertisingand other publications is $15,000.

The Bajus family and the Housing Center will each receive $25,000 from the cash portionof the settlement. The remaining $25,000 will be used to cover legal costs and fees.

The Housing Center, a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program grantee, sued Novasic andWick Communications last year after receiving a complaint from the Bajuses. Leasing agentstold them that they could not rent an apartment at the Plaza Apartments because the onlyavailable units were in a section of the complex designated for adults only.

After receiving the Bajuses' complaint, the Housing Center sent testers to PlazaApartments. Agents told the testers that one section of the complex was for families withchildren and another section was reserved for adults only. The testing evidence stronglysupported the family's complaint.

Further investigation by the Housing Center revealed that Novasic had been running adsthat publicized the adult section of his complex since 1989. The ads ran in the SierraVista Herald, according to Richard Rhey, the Center's executive director.

Although the Fair Housing Act does allow an exemption to family status rules forseniors-only housing (housing for persons over the age of 55), the Plaza Apartments didnot obtain a designation as this type of housing and did not meet the requirements tobecome a seniors-only complex.

"This settlement is a victory for families with children," Rhey said."It says you can't penalize someone for being a parent."

Barbara Bajus agreed by saying that she simply wanted to prevent future discrimination.The Bajus family no longer lives in Arizona.