HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No. 00-308
Further Information: For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685 Thursday
Or contact your local HUD office November 2, 2000


WASHINGTON - U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo today said that HUD has charged the owners and manager of an Ozark, MO, apartment complex with housing discrimination for refusing to rent to a couple because they are East Indian.

The complaint was filed against the owners and manager of the River Run Condominiums and Duplexes in the 800 block of North 22nd in Ozark. The property is owned by Ronald and Janet Deffenderfer, doing business as Res-Rent, L.L.C., and is managed by Joanne Willis. [Editor's note: The couple has asked HUD not to reveal their names because of concern over possible repercussions against their family.]

"Housing discrimination is outrageous, intolerable and illegal, and it takes courage for people to fight back if they become victims," Cuomo said. "Our message to anyone who feels the sting of housing discrimination is simple: HUD is on your side. We will help you fight for your legal right to live anywhere you can afford. We want to tear down the barriers of housing discrimination."

River Run consists of 26 two-bedroom rental units and one unit that serves as the manager's personal residence and the rental office for the property.

In their complaint, the wife alleged that in the summer, 1998, she went to River Run to inquire about renting a unit for herself, her husband and their two children. She told Willis that she wanted to rent a unit before her children started school. Willis took the woman's name and telephone number and told her that she would be called if anyone moved out.

The complainant said she called Willis four or five times between June and September, and was told on each occasion that there were no units available for rent.

In mid-September, the wife again called Willis and was again told that there were no units available. When Willis allegedly refused the wife's request to "put it in writing," the wife asked a white female coworker to contact Willis about renting a unit. When the white coworker telephoned Willis, she was told that a unit was available. The white coworker drove to River Run where Willis showed her a vacant unit and told her that she could move in the next day. The white coworker was never asked to submit a rental application.

The white coworker immediately informed the couple about her conversation with Willis. About 45 minutes later, the husband said that he went to River Run and told Willis that he needed to rent a unit immediately. Willis told him she had nothing available for rent. The husband then asked for the owner's name and telephone number, but Willis refused to give it to him.

According to the husband, he later called Willis again to request the owner's telephone number, but Willis still refused to provide it and hung up on him. Two days after the incident, the owner telephoned the couple and told the husband that he would need to submit a rental application before he could be approved as a tenant.

HUD began to investigate the couple's allegations after they filed a discrimination complaint in October.

The investigation revealed that a unit became vacant one day before the complainant wife's inquiry in mid-September and that the same unit was offered to one of her white female coworkers. The unit remained vacant until mid-October when it was rented to a white male who told HUD that Willis approved him as a tenant before he even submitted a rental application.

The investigation further revealed that from June through September, the period when the East Indian couple sought to rent a unit, at least 5 white new tenants moved into River Run. The East Indian couple was not told that these units were available.

Both the owners and manager denied discriminating against the couple. During the course of HUD's investigation the respondents implied that they had previously rented to an East Indian man. The HUD investigators determined, however, that the respondents rented to the East Indian tenant only after they became aware of the couple's complaint.

"This situation is very painful and upsetting," the wife told HUD. "Because even now, everywhere we go, I feel like someone may treat us unfairly because of our color."

Her husband agreed. "Our children feel the same way. They still carry that scar with them and I think, in their minds they sometimes wish they were white, so that no one will discriminate against them. Whenever we go to the supermarket, someone may say something to me and I feel that they are saying it in a particular way because of my nationality, even though that may not be the case. The fact that we were discriminated against is still in my mind. I think it will always be with us."

Housing discrimination charges heard before an Administrative Law Judge carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 -- provided there are no prior violations of the Act -- plus actual damages, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees. If either party requests a trial in federal district court, the federal judge can award punitive damages.

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, insuring and advertising of most of the nation's housing. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and city agencies working with HUD, and by private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds.

Note to editors: People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.


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