October 12, 2004
HUD CHARGES RENO CORPORATION AND OWNER WITH VIOLATIONS OF FAIR HOUSING ACT
Corporation refused to lease an apartment to African American couple with disabilities
WASHINGTON - The Department of Housing and Urban Development today announced it charged the Grand Canyon Enterprises, Inc., owner of the a seven-unit apartment building in Reno, Nev., with violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to rent an apartment to an African-American couple based on their race/color and their disabilities.
On April 22, 2002 an African-American couple with disabilities learned of a two-bedroom apartment vacancy at 750 Moran St. from a Caucassian who resided at the complex. Charles and Victoria Bell, and Carolyn Jackson, Ms. Bell's mother, met Anita Grabowski, the property manager and part shareholder, at the apartments.
While viewing the apartments, Victoria told the manager that the building was great because she was on kidney dialysis and she could walk to Washoe Medical Center. Charles viewed the apartment while using his mobile oxygen tank.
After viewing the apartment, Grabowski told the Bell's to submit their appplication through, Lanie Stovall, the friend who had alerted them of the vacancy. When Stovall gave Grabowski the completed application, Grabowski allegedly said the Bell's were "too sickly" to live in the apartment and she did not want to deal with "whatever is wrong" with Mr. Bell.
It is also alleged that Grabowski told Stovall "I'm not prejudiced, but I prefer not to rent to black people." Grabowski then tossed the application in the trash. When the Bell's called to inquire about the status of their application, Grabosski said she felt they were too sick to live in the unit. Several weeks later she rented the apartment to two white males.
Through HUD's investigation two witnesses were found who confirmed that Grabowski had made discrimanatory statements about renting to blacks or Mexicans. HUD's investigation also revealed that some applicants were not required to complete rental applications and some units had even been rented on the spot, without any references being checked.
As a result of the concerns expressed by the Bell's, the Silver State Fair Housing Council conducted two independent tests on the basis of disability. During the initial test Grabowski discouraged a potential tenant who said she was undergoing radiation therapy and was looking for an apartment for her and her husband. Grabowski discouraged the tester by saying the apartment was too small.
Later when a non-disabled tester phoned Grabowski inquiring about an apartment for her and her husband, Grabowski scheduled an appointment to view the apartment and never mentioned the apartment was too small.
"People with disabilities should have the same opportunities as everyone else," said Carolyn Peoples, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "The Fair Housing Act opens doors of opportunity to everyone, not just to those a landlord deems okay."
A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on January 11, 2004, in the Reno, Nevada, unless either the complainant or respondent elect to have the case decided by a federal judge in U.S. District Court. An election to go to district court must be made by October 26, 2004.
Housing discrimination charges heard before an ALJ carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense in addition to actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees. Sanctions can be more severe if the respondent has a history of housing discrimination and if either party elects to go to federal district court, either party may request a jury trial and punitive damages.
In either forum, an United States Department of Housing and Urban Development attorney or a Department of Justice attorney brings the case on behalf of the complainant. Each party has the right to be represented by his or her own attorney. HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development as well as enforces the nation's fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet and espanol.hud.gov.People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at (800) 669-9777. Additional information is available at www.usdoj.gov.