|HUD No. 00-156|
|Further Information:||For Release|
|In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685||Monday|
|Or contact your local HUD office||July 3, 2000|
LANDLORD TO PAY $195,000 TO SETTLE HOUSING DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT
WASHINGTON - A California landlord accused of offering homeless women reduced rent in return for sexual favors has agreed to pay $195,000 to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced today.
The lawsuit accused landlord Kamal Lal of seeking out women at the Modesto Inn homeless shelter and offering them reduced rent or other benefits in return for sexual favors. Kamal Lal - along with his wife, Usha - agreed to the settlement. The two own about 20 rental homes in Modesto, CA.
In addition to paying the $195,000, Kamal Lal is barred from establishing contact with his former, current and future tenants. He also must hire a professional management company to run his rental properties, and he must attend fair housing training.
"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."
Modesto Inn homeless shelter residents Doreen Cordero and Jill Hickey sued Kamal Lal and his wife for separate incidents that allegedly happened in late 1997.
Cordero and Hickey were assisted in their lawsuit by Project Sentinel, a private California fair housing group that receives HUD funding. The law firm of Brancart and Brancart of Pescedero, CA - a member of Project Sentinelís Lawyer Referral Service - and California Rural Legal Assistance handled the case and filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in June 1998. California Rural Legal Assistance also receives HUD funding to fight housing discrimination.
The settlement money will be divided between Cordero, Project Sentinel and the lawyers. Hickey settled her portion of the lawsuit separately in 1999, prior to the resolution of the remainder of the suit this year.
Project Sentinel and the groupís investigators said they found at least ten other women who also claimed that Lal made sexually explicit comments or requested sexual favors from them in exchange for rent, maintenance, or other benefits. The most recent accusation was from December 1998.
Liza Cristol-Deman, Cordero and Hickeyís attorney, said: "This case and the settlement reached by the parties are extremely important, not only because the victims will receive compensation, but because the consent decree ensures that Mr. Lal will no longer have contact with his tenants or rental applications. Mr. Lal cannot abuse his position as a housing provider to prey on women any longer."
Project Sentinel Executive Director Ann Marquart said: "It is vital that our communities understand that sexual harassment victims have civil rights protection and that HUD provides the resources for that protection - that remedies are available."
Cordero said in her lawsuit that Kamal Lal approached her outside the Modesto Inn and offered to show her rental houses he owned. Cordero said when she asked how much one of the properties rented for and if dogs were allowed, Lal responded that rent was $400, and that pets werenít allowed. However, Cordero said Lal told her if she would "date" him, she would be charged only $300 to $350 and her dog could stay.
Cordero said that when she asked Lal what he meant by "date," he told her he knew other women at the Modesto Inn who would perform oral sex on him. Cordero said she was shocked and told Lal she wasnít interested, and then asked him to drive her back to the Inn. Lal allegedly told Cordero she should call him if she changed her mind. Cordero reported Lalís alleged actions to the Modesto Inn management immediately, which contacted Project Sentinel for help.
Hickey said in her lawsuit that Lal called her in her room at the Modesto Inn homeless shelter and offered to drop off a rental application for a house he owned. She said he later said, "you look good; Iíll call you back. Do you date?"
Hickey said when she asked what Lal meant, he said: "What kind of sex do you like?" Hickey said that when he gave her a rental application, Lal invited her to come to his house to drop off the application and "date." The woman said she feared being homeless, so she told him sheíd consider it. She said she told Lal he could come to her apartment for the application, but she became frightened and left before he arrived. However, Hickey said Lal continued calling her and offered to get her a house if she would "party once or twice" or "date" him. She reported Lalís actions to the homeless program.
Cordero and Hickey continue to live in the Modesto area, and neither has permanent housing.
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.