|HUD No. 12-013
January 25, 2012
HUD CHARGES MASSACHUSETTS APARTMENT BUILDING OWNER WITH DISCRIMINATING AGAINST FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN
Apartment owner cited presence of lead paint as basis for denial
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it is charging the owner of a 24-unit apartment building in Holyoke, Massachusetts, with housing discrimination for denying units to families that have children. HUD's charge alleges that Nilma Fichera, who owns and manages New York-based N.A.G. Realty, LLC, violated the Fair Housing Act when she refused to show or rent apartments to families with children because she could not certify that the building was free of lead-based paint.
HUD guidance on the investigation of Fair Housing Act and in its lead regulations (www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-1999-09-15/pdf/99-23016.pdf#page=19) makes clear that while property owners may tell families about housing units that have not been remediated for lead paint, the presence of lead-based paint cannot be used as a reason to refuse to rent.
"Laws to make apartment buildings lead free should not be used as an excuse to make them child-free," said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "HUD will continue to enforce the law to ensure that landlords uphold fair housing principles."
According to HUD's charge, Fichera posted an ad on Craigslist for a three-bedroom apartment. In response to the ad, the Housing Discrimination Project, a non-profit organization located in Holyoke, Massachusetts, that promotes fair housing, arranged for testers to call the number listed in the ad. In a phone conversation with one tester who said she had a five-year-old and a six-year-old, Fichera allegedly said, "This apartment does not have a lead certificate and the law says I can't rent to anyone with children under five."
HUD's charge further claims that Fichera refused to show a unit to another tester with a two-year-old son, because the unit did not have a lead certificate.
HUD's charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, she may award damages to aggrieved persons for the damages caused them by the discrimination.
The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines in order to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages to aggrieved persons.
FHEO and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate approximately 10,000 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 (voice), (800) 927-9275 (TTY).
HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes: utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination; and transform the way HUD does business. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov. You can also follow HUD on twitter @HUDnews, on facebook at www.facebook.com/HUD, or sign up for news alerts on HUD's News Listserv.