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HUD Orders Mississippi Man Who Harassed Potential Homebuyers to Pay $146,000 in Damages and Penalties
WASHINGTON - HUD has ordered a Mississippi man, Chris Hope, to pay $146,000 in damages and penalties for harassing an African-American couple, Michael and Pamela Keys, who had contracted to buy the house next to his.
In November 2000, HUD filed charges on behalf of the Keys, who had filed a housing discrimination complaint saying they were intimidated out of buying the house in Brandon. HUD also filed charges on behalf of the seller's real estate agent, Katherine Beard, whose sales commission was reduced when the house eventually sold for less money to another buyer. In addition, Beard testified that Hope made a harassing phone call to her, saying that she "needed to get a lawyer because she would be thrown in jail for lying."
"This decision sends a clear message that racial discrimination will not be tolerated," said HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Ken Marcus. "The Fair Housing Act was created to combat this type of behavior."
Keys and Beard told HUD investigators that in April 1999, during a pre-settlement walk-through inspection of the house the Keys were introduced to neighbor Hope as he arrived home in his car. Beard, the sellers and Hope are white.
Upon meeting his new neighbors, Hope stated a few times, "You're kidding me," and asked the Keys why they wanted to live there. When the Keys replied that the neighborhood seemed to be quiet and nice, Hope responded, "Yeah. It is. It's an all-white neighborhood."
Witnesses testified that Hope pointed to his backyard and said, "That's why my wife had to hold the dogs. They were going crazy, and they don't like blacks either." Hope then asked why the Keys did not go back to South Jackson, which is a predominantly black neighborhood, whereupon Mrs. Keys responded that they were not from South Jackson.
Hope continued to ask why they would want to live there, and pointed to a nearby house, stating that his neighbor, "who owns a gun shop, feels the same way I do."
The Keys testified that when Hope started moving back toward the dogs that they feared what he might do next, so they left as fast as they could. The Keys and Beard filed complaints with city police, and three days later the Keys withdrew their purchase offer and forfeited their deposit. A month later the Keys bought a less desirable house in a different neighborhood of Brandon.
HUD Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Robert Andretta issued an initial decision and order that Hope pay $126,900 in damages to the Keys and $8,140 to Beard. Hope must also pay an $11,000 civil penalty to the federal government.
This is believed to be one of the few cases in which a real estate agent has been awarded damages under the Fair Housing Act.
"Michael and I are very pleased with the judge's ruling," Pam Keys said. "We want to thank friends, family and HUD for their support. And we thank God for bringing us through the trials and tribulations that came along with this case."
"This has been a very long and trying ordeal for all of us and I am glad that it has finally concluded," Katherine Beard said. "What the Keys' experienced should not occur in today's world. I look forward to the day when the only determining factor in purchasing a home is the amount of loan an individual qualifies for, and not race, cultural differences or ethnic background."
DAS Marcus commended Beard for coming forward, noting that the case shows how real estate agents can help fight discrimination and promote equal housing opportunities. He encouraged more real estate professionals to complete the diversity training offered by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Over the past five years, more than 5,000 agents have taken the training, which was developed by NAR with help from HUD.
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. Investigations are conducted by HUD, state and city agencies working with HUD, and by private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds. After a charge is filed, a hearing is held before an ALJ, unless a party elects to have the case heard in federal court.
HUD, like many other federal agencies, has ALJs who make independent decisions in administrative law matters before the Department, such as fair housing cases. ALJs have career, nonpolitical appointments with lifetime tenure.
HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership, particularly among minorities, creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans, supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development as well as enforces the nation's fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet.
Anyone who believes they have experienced housing discrimination is asked to call HUD's Housing Discrimination Hotline at 1-800-669-9777, or visit HUD's fair housing website.
Content Archived: April 9, 2010