June 27, 2018, Housingwire by Kelsey Ramírez
Claim violations under federal Fair Housing Act
Civil rights groups are coming together to bring a lawsuit against Bank of America and Safeguard Properties Management for alleged fair housing violations.
The National Fair Housing Alliance, a group of 19 fair housing organizations and two homeowners from Maryland filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the two companies. According to the lawsuit, the defendants intentionally failed to provide routine exterior maintenance and marketing for Bank of America-owned homes in African American and Latino neighborhoods across 37 metro areas. This was then compared with mostly white neighborhoods, where the bank allegedly consistently maintained its homes.
The claims the civil rights groups make about some of these homes is nothing short of shocking. The groups say they found evidence of wildly overgrown grass and weeds, unsecured doors and windows, damaged steps and handrails, accumulated trash and debris, unsecured pools, graffiti and even dead animals decaying in the yards.
By contrast, the lawsuit alleges that in predominantly white working- and middle-class neighborhoods, homes are far more likely to have the lawns mowed and edged regularly, invasive weeds and vines removed, windows and doors secured or repaired, debris and trash removed, leaves raked and graffiti erased from the property.
Bank of America took possession of these homes after it foreclosed on the properties and became the owner of record. As owner of these homes, the bank is responsible for routine exterior maintenance on all of its properties. NFHA claims it first made Bank of America aware of these problems back in 2009, and even offered recommendations for improvement. However, no such improvements were made, according to the alliance.
“Bank of America should have taken meaningful steps toward fixing these problems after being put on notice, but failed to do so,” said Caroline Peattie, executive director of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, one of the fair housing groups filing the lawsuit. “For example, Bank of America boarded windows in communities of color rather than installing clear boarding or fixing the windows."
“Boarded windows carry a stigma and imply the neighborhood is not safe or desirable,” Peattie said. “Bank of America must be held accountable for failing to maintain its foreclosure inventory. In California, Bank of America has played a major part in changing single-family, owner-occupied neighborhoods into rental communities, as large investors buy bank-owned homes in quantity and drag property values down in the process.”