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CUOMO SAYS ARIZONA LANDLORD AND NEWSPAPER ACCUSED OF HOUSING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PARENTS AGREE TO $90,000 SETTLEMENT
An Arizona landlord accused of illegally discriminating against a couple because they have children -- and a newspaper that published ads for an adults-only section of the landlord's apartment complex -- have agreed to a $90,000 settlement of housing discrimination charges, Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced today.
The settlement is believed to be one of the first of its kind involving a newspaper accused of illegally publishing a discriminatory housing ad in violation of the Fair Housing Act in Arizona. In addition, the $75,000 cash portion of the settlement is the largest amount ever paid to settle a charge of housing discrimination against families with children in Arizona, according to the Southern Arizona Housing Center, based in Tucson.
"The message this settlement sends is that housing discrimination does not pay," Cuomo said. "We will not allow illegal discrimination to stop families across this nation from living in any home, in any apartment or in any neighborhood they can afford."
The Housing Center - which is receiving $350,000 in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for 1997 and 1998 - filed a housing discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Frank Bajus and his wife Barbara last year, after the couple said were told they could not rent an apartment at the Plaza Apartments in Sierra Vista, AZ because the apartment was in an area reserved for adults only.
Although not admitting liability, landlord Nick Novasic agreed to pay a total of $64,000 to the Housing Center and to Mr. and Mrs. Bajus, who have 3-year-old and 5-year-old sons.
Wick Communications -- owner of The Sierra Vista Herald -- agreed to pay a total of $11,000 to the Bajus family and to the Housing Center. In addition, Wick Communications agreed to publish fair housing display ads in the Sierra Vista Herald twice weekly and publish an informational fair housing article once a month for a year, at its own expense. The estimated cost of these publications is $15,000.
The Bajus family and the Housing Center will each get $25,000 from the settlement, and the remaining $25,000 will be used to pay legal fees.
"This settlement is a victory for families and children," said Rick Rhey, Director of the Southern Arizona Housing Center. "It says that you can't penalize someone for being a parent."
HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Eva Plaza joined Rhey in Tucson for a news conference today to discuss the settlement.
"We are very pleased with this settlement," Mrs. Bajus said. "Our goal has always been to prevent this kind of discrimination from happening to any other family." The couple left Arizona and moved to Germany in September, when Bajus was transferred by his employer..
The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on account of family status, race, color, religion, sex, disability and national origin. It covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation.
While there are provisions under the Act that allow entire housing complexes to become communities limited to residents over the age of either 55 or 62, the Plaza Apartments did not obtain a designation as this type of housing.
After the Bajus' filed a discrimination complaint with the Southern Arizona Housing Center last year, Rhey said the Housing Center sent volunteers posing as prospective tenants to the Plaza Apartments. The volunteers said they were told that a particular section of the complex was reserved for adults only. This confirmed the results of testing at the complex carried out before the Bajus' filed their complaint.
Further investigation revealed that Novasic, had been running ads since 1989 in the Sierra Vista Herald, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, promoting an adults-only section in the apartments, Rhey said.
"This year, the 30th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, I am reaffirming HUD's commitment to the crackdown on housing discrimination that we began in September at President Clinton's direction," Cuomo said.
President Clinton's proposed 1999 federal budget seeks $22 million in increased funding for HUD to intensify the fight against housing discrimination. The 73 percent increase for HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity would boost spending by the office to $52 million.
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.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009