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CUOMO ANNOUNCES HOUSING DISCRIMINATION CHARGES AGAINST LOUISIANA APARTMENT OWNERWASHINGTON -- Secretary Andrew Cuomo said the Department of Housing and Urban Development today filed housing discrimination charges against a Lake Charles, LA landlord accused of telling an African American man: "I don't like to rent to you people ... brown, black, colored, whatever you call yourselves."
The filing of federal civil charges against white landlord Danny LeBlanc, accusing him of violating the Fair Housing Act, is part of a nationwide crackdown on housing discrimination ordered by President Clinton on Sept. 30.
"The Fair Housing Act says every family in this nation has the right to live in any neighborhood and in any home they can afford to buy or rent," Cuomo said. "Housing discrimination is an ugly part of America's past that has no place in our present or future. It's outrageous, it's illegal and it's intolerable."
Gene Lewis, who is black, said in a complaint he filed with HUD that after he saw a newspaper ad for a vacant studio apartment at 417 Peake St. in Lake Charles last year, he called the number listed and LeBlanc agreed to hold the apartment for a $100 deposit.
But when Lewis went to look at the apartment immediately after the call and LeBlanc saw he was black, Lewis said LeBlanc refused to rent him the apartment. In addition to the comments quoted above, Lewis said LeBlanc told him: "If you can find a place anywhere else, I'd appreciate it, because I'm not going to rent to you."
Lewis said he telephoned LeBlanc three days after his visit and -- without identifying himself -- asked if there were any apartments available. LeBlanc initially said that one was. However, after Lewis identified himself as the black man who had visited the apartment, LeBlanc told him another person was interested in the apartment and did not offer Lewis an application.
The next day, a white representative with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now called LeBlanc and was told an apartment at 417 Peake Street was available.
Within 12 days of the time Lewis first called LeBlanc, LeBlanc rented out three apartments in the four-unit building -- to white tenants.
The Louisiana Department of Justice, which enforces Fair Housing laws in the state, worked with HUD on the investigation of the case. Cuomo awarded the state agency $171,000 on Oct. 30 to continue its work to fight housing discrimination.
Elizabeth K. Julian, the HUD Secretary's Representative for Fort Worth and former Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing, appeared at a Lake Charles news conference today to discuss the charge issued in response to Lewis' Fair Housing Act complaint.
The charge announced today means that HUD will take legal action to end the discriminatory practices by LeBlanc and obtain financial relief for Lewis. The parties to the action can have the case heard by an administrative law judge or in U.S. District Court.
A finding by an administrative law judge that the Fair Housing Act has been violated carries a top penalty of $11,000 in civil penalties for the first offense and $55,000 for later offenses; monetary compensation to victims for actual damages, humiliation, mental distress, and loss of their fair housing rights; and attorney fees and court costs. A finding by a federal court of a violation may include assessment of punitive damages, as well as compensation for victims.
"Many victims of housing discrimination don't realize they've been discriminated against, and many people are unfamiliar with the Fair Housing Act," Cuomo said. "We want to alert people that HUD, fair housing groups and state and local agencies will work to make sure their legal right to be free from discrimination is enforced."
People who believe they have been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD. HUD operates a toll-free national hotline to take complaints, in both English and Spanish, at 1-800-669-9777.
During President Clinton's first term, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reached out-of-court settlements on 6,517 housing discrimination cases. The Department took enforcement actions on 1,085 cases, in which HUD issued housing discrimination charges or referred cases to the Department of Justice. HUD obtained $17.8 million in compensation for housing discrimination victims during the President's first term.
The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. The Act covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and city agencies working with HUD, and private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds. If an investigation shows illegal housing practices have occurred and the parties will not settle, HUD issues charges and legal action is taken.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009