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HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No. 99-230
Further Information:For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685Wednesday
Or contact your local HUD officeNovember 10, 1999


WASHINGTON - Owners of a northern California apartment complex have paid $100,000 to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit that accused their maintenance man of threatening an African American tenant and using a racial slur, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced today.

Jamil I. and Faud J. Khuri, doing business as the Khuri Family Trust, this week paid $100,000 to settle the federal lawsuit. The suit accused maintenance man Robert Lafenier, who is white, of committing a housing discrimination hate crime by harassing African American tenant Charletta Fairrer at the Elia Court Apartments in Turlock, CA.

"The message of this settlement is that housing discrimination does not pay," Cuomo said. "Large financial settlements will act as a deterrent against outrageous and illegal discrimination that has no place in our country today."

Fairrer and her then-18-month-old son moved into the Elia Court Apartments in May 1997. In her lawsuit, Fairrer alleged that on several occasions in 1997 Lafenier threatened her and used racial slurs, once telling her: "You f***ing ni**er, if you ever knock on my door again I'll f***ing kill you."

In addition to the verbal harassment, Fairrer said that the letters "S.W.P." and lightning bolts were scratched onto her front door. She said that Lafenier's girlfriend told her later that the markings stood for "Supreme White Power."

In addition, Fairrer said a beer bottle was thrown at her car as it sat parked outside her apartment building on another occasion.

Fairrer said that she reported the incidents several times to the apartment complex manager Melissa Cohea, who allegedly told Fairrer nothing could be done.

Fairrer said: "I was shocked and devastated to be treated that way, but I think I was even more shocked that it continued. I come from a middle-class family and I can't believe these kinds of things still go on. It was a long, hard road but I'm glad I didn't give up. And maybe because something was done in this case, it won't happen to someone else."

As part of the settlement, the apartment complex owners will provide mandatory fair housing training for their employees and will run a newspaper ad that says they are a "Fair Housing Provider." Neither the maintenance man nor the manager work at the complex anymore.

The lawsuit against the apartment owners was filed on Fairrer's behalf by Project Sentinel, a San Francisco Bay-area private fair housing group that receives HUD funding to fight housing discrimination.

"I applaud Project Sentinel for working successfully to reach this settlement," Cuomo said.

Fairrer contacted Project Sentinel and the group's investigators said they found four witnesses who corroborated her accusations. The law firm of Brancart and Brancart of Pescedero, CA, handled the case and filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California last summer.

Project Sentinel Executive Director Ann Marquart said: "We believe the evidence was overwhelming and supports the settlement of $100,000. This settlement sends a strong message to housing providers that the creation and maintenance of a hostile living environment will not be tolerated."

Fairrer moved out of the complex in December 1997 and now lives with relatives in the San Francisco Bay area. She said she hopes one day to own her own home.

The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on the basis 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.

A HUD Administrative Law Judge in 1994 ruled (HUD v Gutleben) that the verbal abuse of tenants or threats against tenants with racial epithets interferes with the their right to use and enjoy their homes, and is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act.

Cuomo said that HUD will be able to continue moving aggressively against housing discrimination as a result of increased funding for the effort in its new budget for Fiscal Year 2000. The budget for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity rose from $40 million in Fiscal 1999 to $44 million in Fiscal Year 2000. Of that total amount, $18 million will be exclusively for private fair housing groups, such as Project Sentinel.

People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777 or on the Internet.


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