Headline #4: Community Pays $251,500 to Settle Race Discrimination Claims

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The owners and operators of an Illinois mobile home community recently agreed to pay $251,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging race discrimination, according to the Justice Department. The complaint alleged that the former manager imposed more burdensome application requirements to discourage African-American prospects from living there.

The Backstory: This case is based on allegations that the community’s property manager refused to let an African-American man be added as a resident at the park when he moved in with his white girlfriend and her uncle. During the two months he stayed there, the man said that the manager’s son, who helped manage the property, subjected him to racially derogatory comments and harassment. The family said they moved out after being threatened with eviction for having an unauthorized guest unless the boyfriend moved out.

After they filed a HUD complaint, the Justice Department conducted an investigation by sending out testers to check for race discrimination. Based on the family’s complaint and the results of the testing, the Justice Department sued the owners and operators of the community for fair housing violations. According to the complaint, the testing showed that the manager treated prospects differently based on their race by, among other things:

  • Requiring African-American prospects to fill out rental applications to be approved for residency, while offering lots to similarly situated white prospects without requiring them to fill out an application;
  • Requiring African-American testers to have their mobile homes inspected by the manager before they could move in, but not requiring such inspections for white testers; and
  • Quoting higher estimated move-in costs to African-American testers than to white testers.

Until the lawsuit was filed in 2014, the complaint alleged that there had been no African-American residents at the community since at least 2007, when the manager got the job.

The community denied the allegations, but the parties reached a settlement to resolve the case. Without admitting liability, the community agreed to pay the family $217,500 in damages and attorney’s fees and a $34,000 civil penalty. The community also agreed to implement a nondiscrimination policy, establish new nondiscriminatory application and rental procedures, conduct fair housing training, and meet reporting requirements.

“Federal law guarantees everyone the right to housing on equal terms and the right to live free from harassment because of their race or color,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “Settlements such as this one help ensure that all people can enjoy that right.”

Lessons Learned: 

1.   Keep Race Out of the Leasing Process: It’s illegal to allow race to play any part in decisions about who may live in your community. The Fair Housing Act bans refusing to rent or making housing unavailable to anyone based on his race—or that of anyone associated with him. It’s also unlawful to represent to anyone, because of his race, that a dwelling is not available for rental when such dwelling is in fact available.

2.   Consistency Is Key to Avoiding Fair Housing Problems: Federal officials and private fair housing agencies are still on the lookout for race discrimination by sending out paired testers of different races to see how they’re treated. They’re often looking for any differences in responses to inquiries about vacancies, explanations of application requirements, quoted fees and rental charges, and willingness to show units—to name a few. To avoid fair housing trouble, maintain standard policies and procedures to ensure consistent treatment of prospects, regardless of their race. And document your process with written records, such as guest cards, phone logs, unit availability logs, rental applications, wait lists, and the like.

3.   Don’t Assume Race Discrimination Is a Thing of the Past: It’s not—it’s just gone underground, according to HUD’s latest round of nationwide testing. The 2013 study found that blatant acts of housing discrimination faced by minority home seekers continues to decline, but more subtle forms of housing denial stubbornly persist. Though few prospects were denied an appointment to see an advertised unit, the study found that real estate agents and rental housing providers recommended and showed fewer available homes and apartments to African-American, Asian, and Hispanic families. The study, which involved 8,000 paired tests in 28 metropolitan areas across the country, concluded this is a national, not a regional, phenomenon.

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