HUD No. 07-095
June 27, 2007
HUD CHARGES PHILADELPHIA LANDLORD WITH VIOLATING THE FAIR HOUSING ACT
Couple with child allegedly denied an apartment
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it has charged a Philadelphia couple who own rental properties with violating the Fair Housing Act by allegedly refusing to rent an apartment to an engaged couple because they have a child.
In May 2006, Marta White and her fiancé, Adam Robertson, were searching for an apartment in the Philadelphia area before the start of their school year at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. White e-mailed Julie Sokoloff, who owned several units, to find out if she had any units available. White had been given Sokoloff's contact information by a friend who was one of Sokoloff's current tenants.
Sokoloff responded to the e-mail, telling White that she had two units available, a two-bedroom and a one-bedroom that could be viewed by logging onto Craigslist.org.
During a follow-up exchange of e-mails at the end of May 2006, White said she and Sokoloff discussed deposits, rental amounts, move-in dates, and the possibility of one of having a friend view the two-bedroom unit for them.
On May 30, White e-mailed Sokoloff to inform her that she and Robertson were in the process of adopting a two-year-old boy. She wanted to make sure Sokoloff didn't have a problem with it. Later that same day, Sokoloff replied, "Sorry, we don't rent to anyone with children - this apartment is really not big enough for a family. Best of luck - sorry we can't be more helpful."
When White told Sokoloff that she thought her position violated the law, Sokoloff allegedly responded that she was too quick to respond without explanation. Sokoloff said "The apartment has lead paint which can be very dangerous around young children and it is on the third floor, so White would have to carry a stroller up and down stairs." Sokoloff added that strollers couldn't be stored in the hallway.
In August, Sokoloff and her husband, Steven, rented the unit to a family that doesn't have children.
"In an era where finding safe, decent, affordable housing can be difficult for families, no family should be illegally denied an opportunity just because they have children," said Kim Kendrick, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "There is no place for discrimination against families with children in a nation whose founding principles are justice and equality for all."
Housing discrimination charges heard before an administrative law judge carry a maximum civil penalty of $16,000 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 previously violated the Fair Housing Act. Parties also have the right to elect to have their cases heard in federal district court. Should either party elect to go to district court, either party may request a jury trial.
In either forum, the case is brought on behalf of the complainant. Complaints heard before an administrative law judge are enforced by an attorney from HUD, while complaints that go to federal district court are enforced by an assistant United States Attorney or an attorney from the Justice Department. Also, each party has the right to be represented by his or her own attorney.
HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal and Opportunity and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate approximately 10,300 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at (800) 669-9777 (voice), (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Additional information is available at www.hud.gov/fairhousing.