|HUD No. 00-119|
|Further Information:||For Release|
|In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685||Wednesday|
|Or contact your local HUD office||May 31, 2000|
HUD FILES CHARGES AGAINST FLORIDA LANDLORD ACCUSED OF DISCRIMINATING AGAINST WHITE WOMAN BECAUSE OF BLACK FRIENDS VISITS
WASHINGTON Housing and Urban Development
Secretary Andrew Cuomo today announced that HUD has filed housing discrimination
charges against a Clay County, Florida landlord accused of using racial
slurs and intimidating a female tenant and her male friend because they
are a biracial couple.
HUD filed the discrimination charges against Thomas Nail of Starke, Florida under the federal Fair Housing Act. Nail rented out a house near his home to complainant Carole Hernandez. Nail and Hernandez are white. Hernandezs companion who often visited - Gilbert Wright - is black. He also filed a complaint.
It is the first time HUD has brought charges under the Fair Housing Act on behalf of a visitor, rather than just a tenant or homebuyer.
"As this case demonstrates, discrimination is alive and all too well in 21st century America," Cuomo said. "The Fair Housing Act protects the right of any American to live in any home and in any neighborhood that they can afford. This Department will continue to aggressively pursue those who ignore the law and abrogate that right."
Ms Hernandez said: "Im relieved
that HUD listened to me and that my case is not being ignored. Unfortunately,
discrimination like this is more common than people think."
Mr. Wright said: "I couldnt believe the things I had to go through just to be with her."
Hernandez rented the two-bedroom single-family house at 3966 Civic Lane in Starke in August of 1997 on a month-to-month basis. She said in her complaint that at first Nail was very cordial, but shortly after moving in she noticed that Nail frequently used racial slurs, often telling her that " niggers were lazy, no good, welfare thieves."
On one occasion in December 1997, Hernandez
alleged that landlord Nail suddenly entered her home without authorization
and asked specific questions about items in her daughters bedroom.
She said this made her worry that he had possibly entered into her house when she wasnt home and she feared for her safety. Once, after Wright had visited, Nail allegedly told Hernandez that he " could not understand why a white woman would want to lay up with a nigger." Hernandez said she began to fear Nail might ask her to move.
Because of Nails statements and actions, Hernandez and Wright said that they began to meet secretly and at odd hours so as to avoid contact with Nail. Wright said he even hid in the closet whenever Nail came around, making him feel embarrassed, harassed and intimidated.
Three months after she had moved in, Nail raised her rent from $250 to $300 without reason, but Hernandez said she decided to stay because it was so close to her job. However, by April 1998 Hernandez said she felt so upset about Nails continued racial slurs that she decided to move out.
On moving day, Wright borrowed a truck from his employer to help move Hernandezs things. Nail allegedly said to both of them that he suspected the truck was stolen and was going to report it. Fearing that Nail was serious, Wright called his boss to tell him what was happening. His boss said that in fact Nail was on the other line calling about the truck. The employer told HUD investigators that Nail had asked him if he knew that " a (expletive) nigger" was using the truck. Several of Nails friends soon appeared at the property and Hernandez said she became concerned that there may be a confrontation so she called the sheriffs office. An officer was sent, and under his observation, Nail called Hernandez a "nigger lover."
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.
Hernandez and Wright filed fair housing complaints with HUD in October 1998. In Wrights case, this is the first time HUD has issued a charge on behalf of a visitor to a dwelling covered under the law. A ruling this year in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania opined that a visitor may be an "aggrieved person" under the statute, with standing to sue for damages suffered in connection with a discriminatory housing practice.
After investigating, HUD issued charges of discrimination in April. Hernandez and Wright have chosen to have their cases heard in federal court rather than by a HUD Administrative Law Judge and the case is now being handled by the Justice Department.
If Nail is found guilty, the court could award monetary compensation for damages, humiliation, mental distress, loss of housing rights, attorney fees, and court costs. It could also assess possible punitive damages as well as a civil penalty of up to $50,000 if the Justice Department determines that there is a pattern or practice of housing discrimination.
HUD is doubling its fair housing efforts under Cuomo. Cuomo said HUD will be able to increase its efforts to combat housing discrimination even further if President Clintons new budget request for a 14 percent increase in funding for HUDs Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is approved. The President is asking Congress for $50 million for HUDs anti-discrimination office in the Fiscal Year 2001 Federal Budget up from $44 million the current fiscal year, $40 million in FY 1999, and $30 million in FY 1998.
People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.