The Justice Department announced today that Thomas Mere, the owner and operator of Mere’s Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park in North Fort Myers, Florida, has agreed to pay $40,000 to resolve allegations that he discriminated against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The settlement, which is in the form of a consent order, must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
The government’s complaint, also filed today, alleges that the defendant falsely told African Americans that no mobile homes, recreational vehicles or recreational vehicle lots were immediately available for rent, but told similarly-situated white persons that they were, in fact, available for rent. According to the complaint, the defendant encouraged prospective white renters to consider residing at Mere’s Park and discouraged African Americans from residing there by, for example, referring African Americans to another mobile home and RV park, making discouraging comments about units that were available for rent and failing to provide African Americans complete and accurate information about available units and lots. The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices.
“Owners of rental properties cannot pick and choose residents based on race or color,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to hold owners who violate the law accountable for their discriminatory conduct.”
“All citizens and their families should be free to choose where they want to live without fear of discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida. “Our office is committed to eradicating all forms of housing discrimination in the Middle District of Florida.”
Under the settlement, the defendant will establish a settlement fund of $30,000 to compensate victims of his discriminatory practices and pay a civil penalty of $10,000 to the United States. The agreement also requires that the defendant implement nondiscriminatory application and rental procedures at the park, undergo fair-housing training and provide periodic reports to the department.