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.