HUD No. 05-038
April 4, 2005
HUD CHARGES ALABAMA LANDLORD WITH VIOLATION OF FAIR HOUSING ACT
Mobile Fair Housing Center testers prove landlord is biased
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said today it has charged Beulah Stevens, a Saraland, Alabama, landlord, with violating the Fair Housing Act, after an investigation found Stevens had discriminated against tenants Michele Jones, a white female, and her 18-month-old biracial daughter, based on race and color.
HUD's investigation revealed that in February 2002, upon a referral from a friend of Jones, a resident of a mobile home park owned by Stevens, Stevens agreed to rent a single-family home at 146 Bayou Sara Avenue to Jones. Stevens agreed to rent the home to Jones for $350 monthly rent, plus a $300 security deposit, without ever meeting Jones.
Jones and her daughter moved into the home in mid-March. Later that month Jones received visits from an African-American and an Asian co-worker. Upon seeing the African-American co-worker, Stevens asked Jones' friend if Jones dated black men, invited people to spend the night, or had parties. The friend informed Stevens that Jones had African-American friends and that she had a biracial child. Stevens responded that she did not want any blacks in the house.
Several weeks later, after Stevens' African-American employee visited Jones' home, Stevens told Jones "Everyone around here knows that I don't let those people come around here. If I had known that you were like that, with a mixed child, you would have never come here - I don't care what the government says about this. I don't want to see any more black people at your house."
After a similar incident on April 15, Stevens told Jones she needed to look for somewhere else to live because they could not get along. Stevens said there were too many parties at Jones' home, and that the house needed repairs so she had decided to sell it. When Jones asked for a written notice to vacate, Stevens refused. In May 2003, Jones moved from the property because she no longer felt comfortable living there, as her daughter's relatives were black and could not visit when they wanted to.
In October 2003, the Mobile Fair Housing Center, a fair housing advocacy organization, conducted two fair housing tests of properties owned by Stevens. In the first test, an African-American male, his white wife, and their biracial daughter visited Stevens' mobile home park. Stevens told the male tester that he was from "[expletive] HUD," and that she did not have anything available. Stevens did not allow the man to enter her home nor would she answer any questions concerning price, availability or lease requirements.
In the second test, a white family visited the mobile home park later that day. Stevens showed them three mobile home lots. She also discussed how she had rented to a lady with a "mixed" child and said she would not do that again.
"Being able to secure housing without regard to one's race or color is one of the cornerstones of the Fair Housing Act," said Carolyn Peoples, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "In four decades we have made progress in educating people about the Fair Housing Act, but as this case illustrates, not everyone has gotten the message."
"In an era where finding safe, decent, affordable housing can sometimes be difficult, equal access is more important than ever," added Peoples.
A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on June 28, 2005 in the Mobile, Alabama area, unless either the complainant or respondent elects to have the case decided by a federal judge in U.S. District Court. An election to go to district court must be made by April 25, 2005.
Housing discrimination charges heard before a U.S. Administrative Law Judge carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense - more if the respondent has committed prior violations of the Act - plus actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees.
Should either party elect to go to district court, either party may request a jury trial. A district court may award the damages available in an administrative proceeding, and may also award punitive damages.
If neither party elects to proceed in federal district court, the case is brought on behalf of the complainant by a HUD attorney before a U.S. Administrative Law Judge. If either party does elect, the case is brought on behalf of the complainant by an Assistant United States Attorney or an attorney from the U.S. Department of Justice in federal district court. In either forum, each party has the right to be represented by his or her own attorney.
HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership, particularly among minorities; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and 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 and espanol.hud.gov.People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at (800) 669-9777 or DOJ at (800) 896-7743 or (202) 514-4713. Additional information is available at www.hud.gov and www.usdoj.gov.
# # #