By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal
The owner of a six-unit San Rafael apartment complex has agreed to pay $27,200 as part of a settlement following allegations that she and her property manager discriminated against an Hispanic family that was forced to leave the complex.
The mediated settlement resulted after Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, formerly known as Fair Housing of Marin, filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The complaint was filed against Rosa Nguyen, the owner, and Bob Torreso, the property manager of the complex at 150 Clark St. The plaintiffs have requested anonymity.
“I’m happy that our clients were at least partially compensated for the considerable damages they experienced,” Caroline Peattie, Fair Housing’s executive director, said in a statement.
The settlement also requires Nguyen to undergo fair housing training for three years.
Stephen Lightfoot of Corte Madera, the attorney representing Nguyen and Torreso, said, “My clients denied all of the allegations, and we reached a settlement which has a finding of no liability and no admission of liability.”
According to Fair Housing, the family moved into the second story of the complex in February 2011. At that time, four of the units were occupied by non-Hispanic, Caucasian individuals and one was occupied by another Hispanic couple with two children.
Fair Housing said that since the winter of 2011, the plaintiff family had been experiencing issues with mold and moisture in their apartment. As a result, the family’s mother and young son experienced significant allergies and a worsening of respiratory disabilities.
Fair Housing said despite numerous requests that the moisture problems be addressed, nothing was done until the latter half of 2015, when the family’s father was granted permission to replace the moldy carpet with laminate flooring on his own with only partial reimbursement for materials. Soon afterward, according to Fair Housing, property manager Torreso began cautioning the family about noise-related concerns. Torreso told the family that a new tenant had moved in below them and had complained that their son was making too much noise, running around the apartment as late as midnight. The family disputed this, responding that the boy’s bedtime was 9 p.m.
Fair Housing said Torreso also began complaining to the family about the accumulation of garbage at the complex. Since the trash did not belong to the family and the manager provided no indication why he believed it did, the family interpreted these allegations as discriminatory statements based on their national origin.
By early 2016, the tenancies for both the plaintiff family and the other Hispanic family at the complex had been terminated. Torreso told the plaintiff family that the termination of their tenancy was due to the noise caused by their son; he reportedly told them he couldn’t rent the apartment below them because of their child.
Desperate to hold onto their apartment, the plaintiff family offered to relocate to the ground-floor apartment. Fair Housing said that owner Nguyen denied the request, however, stating that she had “had it” with the family.
The plaintiff family’s father alleges that in mid-February 2016, Nguyen told him that she no longer wanted to rent any apartments to families with children. At this point, the family sought help from Fair Housing, which sent a letter requesting rescission of the notice of termination and outlining the family’s concerns. Nevertheless, Nguyen filed an unlawful detainer to evict the plaintiff family and the other Hispanic family.
Fair Housing said a copy of the complex’s House Rules and Regulations, included as an exhibit in the detainer, contained discriminatory statements, because they placed limits on where children could play in the complex. The plaintiff family ultimately relocated to a smaller, more expensive apartment in a neighborhood with much more traffic, noise and crime. Fair Housing said subsequently, in the summer of 2016, it conducted an investigation that showed Torreso was discriminating on the basis of national origin by showing preference to non-Hispanic, Caucasian housing applicants.
Fair Housing said Torreso told its Hispanic investigator who inquired about availabilities that a tenant might be moving out in the next month and advised him to call back in three weeks. Fair Housing said one day later Torreso told its non-Hispanic Caucasian investigator that there might be an opening in two weeks, and also provided more detailed information regarding rental terms, including rent and security deposit amounts.
“Our Latino investigator had a clearly identifiable accent and name,” Peattie said in a release. “He was never given a chance to talk about his qualifications or put in an application.”
Fair Housing said two weeks later, its Latino investigator contacted Torreso again and was told there were no vacancies. Fair Housing said less than 24 hours later, Torreso told its non-Hispanic Caucasian investigator that there were two units opening soon, and agreed to provide him with a tour of the premises.
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California
BY NICOLE ÇABALETTE
An African-American renter found a new home in Marin and moved in. Her landlord told her that her neighbors would be upset that she had rented to an African-American. The landlord began harassing the tenant, and following a dispute about rent, placed a sign in her window: “Black Section 8 Tenant – Shameless [tenant’s name].” This tenant’s story of racial discrimination is devastating and is even more disturbing because it happened within the last year.
This year marks fifty years since the federal Fair Housing Act was enacted. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., 125 cities erupted in riots. Seventy thousand military troops and National Guardsmen were deployed in twenty-nine states. One week later, in an attempt to address racial segregation and discrimination, Lyndon Johnson signed the Act into law.
The Fair Housing Act protects individuals from discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability and familial status. In California, there are additional protections for marital status, sexual orientation, immigration status, citizenship, primary language, ancestry, source of income and arbitrary characteristics such as age or physical appearance through the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Fast forward to 2018. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (“FHANC”), formerly known as Fair Housing of Marin, a nonprofit organization serving Marin, Solano, Sonoma and other Bay Area counties, works to ensure equal housing opportunity and to educate the community on the value of diversity in our neighborhoods.
Based in San Rafael, and celebrating its 32nd year serving our community, FHANC is a HUD-Certified Housing Counseling Agency which provides free fair housing counseling, investigation, enforcement, mediation, and legal or administrative referrals to those who have experienced housing discrimination. FHANC also provides foreclosure prevention counseling for distressed homeowners. FHANC staff may represent tenants in the administrative complaint process, and as an agency with standing, sometimes brings administrative complaints and lawsuits in order to change discriminatory housing policies.
For property owners and managers, and other real estate professionals in both the private and public sectors, FHANC provides fair housing law training programs and seminars. Community and tenant groups can also schedule fair housing presentations.
For homeowners suffering a financial hardship, FHANC provides guidance on eligibility and qualifications for participation in federal and state programs to help them stay in their homes, maintain an affordable mortgage payment, and avoid foreclosure.
For homebuyers, FHANC offers pre-purchase education workshops in English and Spanish in the fall and spring, with the next English workshop scheduled for March 1. FHANC’s website is also a fantastic resource for best practices and legal information for tenants, landlords, homeowners and other industry professionals.
FHANC conducts on-call housing discrimination investigations, wherein trained testers take on the role of someone inquiring about housing and report on their experience. Testing is critical to the enforcement of fair housing laws and serves to expose discriminatory practices and patterns that might otherwise go undetected. The reports can be used as evidence in support of a housing discrimination complaint.
For example, FHANC recently conducted a two-part investigation at a property in Marin, using callers with racially-identifiable voices. In both instances, the housing provider refused to schedule a private appointment with the African-American callers; however, when speaking with Caucasian callers just hours later, he agreed to meet without question and offered a lower security deposit.
Another, lesser known piece of FHANC’s advocacy work is its investigations of bank-owned (REO) properties, which commenced in 2013. On February 1, 2018, FHANC, together with the National Fair Housing Alliance and eighteen other fair housing organizations around the country, filed a lawsuit against a Deuschte Bank, its loan servicer, Ocwen Financial, and its property manager, Altisource Portfolian Solutions, related to their failure to maintain and market Deuschte Bank’s REO properties in neighborhoods of color compared to white neighborhoods. FHANC and its partners filed a similar lawsuit last year against Fannie Mae.
Learn More and Get Involved
On April 25, to celebrate Fair Housing Month and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act’s passage, FHANC will present the 2018 Fair Housing Conference at the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Rafael, which will feature experts in the fair housing field who will address pressing fair housing concerns affecting Marin County and the Bay Area, and offer strategies to promote equal housing opportunity.
The examples of blatant discrimination cited above provide a glimpse into the kind of work still required, fifty years later, to continue the fight for equal housing opportunity. If you are looking for ways to get involved, FHANC is always looking for volunteers interested in becoming testers. If you are interested in helping to uncover illegal housing discrimination, please emailor call Katherine Collado at 415.483.7516. FHANC is also seeking committed board members and donations are always welcome. If you are interested in learning more, please email or call FHANC’s Executive Director, Caroline Peattie at 415.457.5025.
Nicole Çabalette is a member of MCBA's Board of Directors and a partner at Keegin Harrison LLP, with a transactional practice emphasizing business, real estate law and estate planning.
View the article online here.
Lawsuit: Deutsche Bank lets foreclosures in minority areas fall to disrepair, suppressing home values
by Scott Holland
Nearly 20 fair housing activist organizations are suing Deutsche Bank, alleging it worked to suppress property values in minority neighborhoods across the country by allowing foreclosed homes to fall into disrepair, while maintaining its holdings much better in predominantely white neighborhoods.
In a complaint filed Feb. 1 in federal court in Chicago, the private organizations said Deutsche Bank did less exterior maintenance and marketing of properties it acquired through foreclosure in predominantly minority neighborhoods in 30 metropolitan areas. In addition to Deutsche Bank, named defendants include Ocwen Financial Corp. and Altisource Portfolio Solutions, Inc., which do home preservation and maintenance work for bank-owned properties.
The housing groups say they investigated more than 1,100 foreclosed properties going back to 2011, collecting “evidence on 39 objective aspects of the routine exterior maintenance of each property investigated, and accumulated over 29,000 photographs of the pertinent conditions, such as unsecured doors, damage to steps, handrails, windows and fences, graffiti, the accumulation of trash and mail and overgrown grass and shrubbery.”
They also said they identified marketing deficiencies like an absence of “for sale” signs or current online listings while allowing “negative signage and warnings to deter prospective buyers” such as “bank-owned,” “auction” or “foreclosed.”
According to the complaint, there were “highly significant disparities in the routine exterior maintenance and marketing of the Deutsche Bank-owned homes in communities of color as compared to white communities.” The plaintiffs said it found in each of the 30 cities examples of bank-owned properties in markedly worse conditions in neighborhoods primarily occupied by African-American and Latino residents.
This approach perpetuated racial segregation, the complaint alleged, by denying housing opportunities, impeding neighborhood stabilization and economic recovery and lowering the value of other homes. They say taking care of properties differently based on the racial makeup of their neighborhood violates the Fair Housing Act, and further that it affects the organizations’ “missions by perpetuating the unlawful discrimination and segregation they use their limited resources to dismantle.”
Plaintiff organizations include the National Fair Housing Alliance, Hope Fair Housing Center, South Suburban Hosing Center, Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Fair Housing Opportunities of Northwest Ohio, Fair Housing Continuum, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, Denver Metro Fair Housing Center, Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Housing Research and Advocacy Center, Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Central Ohio Fair Housing Association, Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Connecticut Fair Housing Center, North Texas Fair Housing Center and Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
According to the complaint, the organizations filed an administrative housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair House and Equal Opportunity Office on Feb. 26, 2014, and amended it six times through July 26, 2017, as its investigation continued. That complaint is pending.
They also said Ocwen and Altisource have “histories of regulatory violations, allegations of unlawful corporate conduct and intentional bad acts, requiring the payment of millions of dollars to resolve claims that they have intentionally violated consumer finance, civil rights and securities laws, and defrauded borrowers with respect to their mortgage loans.”
In addition to a jury trial, the organizations want a court to declare Deutsche Bank’s conduct in violation of FHA regulations and to force it to stop treating properties differently based on neighborhood demographics. They seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The housing organizations are represented by Soule, Bradtke & Lambert, of Elmhurst; Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, of Washington, D.C.; and the National Fair Housing Alliance, also of Washington, D.C.