HUD No. 05-106
Antoinette P. Banks
August 9, 2005
HUD CHARGES ILLINOIS LANDLORD WITH A VIOLATION OF FAIR HOUSING ACT
Doris Rofrano accused of refusing to rent to African-Americans
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it has charged landlord, Doris Rofrano of East Moline, Ill., with violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to rent a house to an individual on the basis of race. Despite advertising a townhouse for rent in the Argus Dispatch newspaper, Rofrano refused to rent the property to African-Americans.
HUD's investigation showed that Rofrano ran a rental ad in the local newspaper from Aug. 20 to Aug. 26, 2004. Carol Collins, an African-American, saw the ad and notified her son, who was searching for housing that would allow him to relocate to East Moline. Troy Collins followed up by calling the number on the ad but was told by Rofrano, who uses a wheelchair, that she was unable to show the property on her own.
Ms. Collins phoned and implored Rofrano to find a way for her and her son, who was visiting from his home in Wisconsin, to view the unit. Rofrano agreed to give them the keys so they could view the unit on their own. When Ms. Collins arrived at Rofrano's residence to retrieve the keys, Rofrano, apparently surprised to see that Ms. Collins was African-American, said, "I do not rent to colored people."
"No family should be subjected to this type of humiliation when they are simply looking for a home," said Floyd May, HUD's General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "The right to live where you want, without regard to race is one of the cornerstones of the Fair Housing Act."
Ms. Collins convinced Rofrano to let her see the apartment by telling Rofrano that although she was African-American, her husband was Caucasian. While Mrs. Collins does not have a Caucasian husband, telling Rofrano that she did afforded her the opportunity to view the unit. After viewing the townhouse with her son, they decided that it would be perfect for him. Mrs. Collins tried unsuccessfully to pay the deposit and sign a lease. Rofrano said she would not have any blank leases until her personal assistant came in the next day.
Rofrano continually rebuffed attempts to rent the townhouse and eventually told the Collins family that the property was off the market and not to call again. The property was eventually placed back on the market and rented to someone who was not African-American.
Ms. Collins, a long time resident of East Moline, was shocked and disillusioned to learn that discrimination exists in her hometown. "I believed that I lived in a community that did not suffer from some of the social injustices found in larger communities," explained Collins.
"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" said Floyd May, HUD's General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
The Fair Housing Act identifies seven classes protected by the law: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under 18) and disability.
A hearing on the charges against Rofrano will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on October 25, 2005 in the Chicago, Ill. area, unless either the complainant or respondent elect 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 August 24, 2005.
Housing discrimination charges heard before an ALJ 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.
In either forum, the case is brought on behalf of the complainant, and the complaint is enforced by an attorney from HUD before a U.S. Administrative Law Judge or by an Assistant United States Attorney or an attorney from the U.S. Department of Justice in federal district court. Also, 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; 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 1-800-669-9777 or www.usdoj.gov.