HUD No. 05-099
Antoinette P. Banks
July 21, 2005
AUSTIN LANDLORDS CHARGED WITH VIOLATING FAIR HOUSING ACT
Couple preys on Hispanics with limited English proficiency
WASHINGTON - The Department of Housing and Urban Development is charging two Austin landlords with violating the Fair Housing Act. Anibal and Janet Silva are charged with discriminating against Hispanic families in the sale of four homes in Austin and San Antonio, Texas.
HUD's investigation determined that on five separate occasions Hispanic homebuyers made down-payments and entered into what they believed to be purchase agreements for homes owned by the Silvas or their family members. The contract signed in all cases was actually a lease. Often, when the homebuyers discovered they had been misled and requested a refund, the Silvas refused.
A former employee, Liliana Ramirez, who worked as an agent with Anibal Silva, told HUD officials that the Silvas targeted Hispanics because it was easy to get them to sign documents since they do not read them, or they are unable to read them due to their limited English skills. She said the Silvas always asked for their money up front.
"The Spanish-language ads this couple placed in the newspapers said that a person could buy a home with easy qualifications and no credit check," said Floyd May, HUD's General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "In reality, they were preying on Hispanic families, who knew little English, turning their dreams of homeownership into living nightmares."
The investigation showed that in one case an Hispanic woman signed what she believed was a home purchase agreement that was drawn up on a Texas Association of Realtors Lease Agreement Form. The agreement stated that she was to pay a down payment of $6,000 and $1,500 monthly towards the property.
Seven months later, Anibal Silva evicted the woman and obtained a default judgement against her. Instead of following through on the default, Silva moved the complainant into another Austin peoperty and told her she was now buying this new property and had forfeited her payments on the previous property.
"Being able to secure housing without regard to one's national origin is one of the cornerstones of the Fair Housing Act," said May. "The predatory tactics we have seen in this case are disheartening and HUD will not stand for them."
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to engage in the following practices, which form the basis of HUD's charges against the Silvas:
- It is unlawful to refuse to rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the rental or sale of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of national origin.
- It is unlawful to discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale of a dwelling because of national origin.
- It is unlawful for any person whose business includes engaging in residential real-estate related transactions to discriminate against any person in making available such a transaction, or in the terms and conditions of such a transaction because of national origin.
- It is unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by the Act because of national origin.
A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on October 18, 2005 in the Austin, Texas, area, 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 August 8, 2005.
Housing discrimination charges heard before an ALJ carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense - more if the respondent has committed prior violations of the Act - plus actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees.
Should either party elect to go to district court, either party may request a jury trial. A district court may award the damages available in an administrative proceeding, and may also award punitive damages.
In either forum, the case is brought on behalf of the complainant, and the complaint is enforced by an attorney from HUD before a U.S. Administrative Law Judge or by an Assistant United States Attorney or an attorney from the U.S. Department of Justice in federal district court. Also, each party has the right to be represented by his or her own attorney.
Outreach to Hispanics about their rights under the federal Fair Housing Act is a Departmental priority. The Department's 2002 national housing discrimination study found that Hispanics face discrimination at the same levels today as they did a decade ago, with discrimination occurring in one out of four transactions. The Department's outreach to this population has included the award of $1.7 million to fair housing agencies in six states with significant or growing Hispanic populations (California, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas) for intensified fair housing enforcement and education. The Department also teamed up with the Hispanic Radio Network in May 2005 to launch a Spanish-language radio campaign in Austin, Texas, and twelve other U.S. markets. HUD saw a 31 percent increase in the number of complaints from Hispanics alleging national origin discrimination following a nationwide PSA campaign, in English and Spanish, the previous year.
People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or DOJ at 1-800-896-7743 or 202-514-4713. Additional information is available at www.hud.gov and www.usdoj.gov.