Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California and Client File Discrimination Complaint Against Landlord
January 26, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Caroline Peattie, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California
(415) 483-7552, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California and Client File Discrimination Complaint Against Landlord
San Rafael, CA – For more than 20 years, it has been illegal for most California landlords to use a minimum income standard in assessing eligibility for a rental applicant that is not based on the portion of the rent to be paid by the tenant, if the tenant has a government subsidy. In January 2020, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act was amended to make it illegal to discriminate against or exclude tenants and applicants because they have housing choice vouchers, or Section 8.
Despite these laws, some landlords continue to exclude Section 8 voucher holders, either by rejecting them for tenancy altogether, or using a minimum income requirement that is impossible for a voucher holder to meet.
Late yesterday, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC) and one of its clients, Ronda Brooks, filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court alleging that AMFP Creekview LLC, Tilden-Lamplighter LLC, and FPI Management, Inc. have excluded voucher holders by using an illegal minimum income standard in at least two of their Sonoma County properties. This minimum income requirement has the effect of excluding tenants who have vouchers.
AMFP IV Creekview LLC is a Delaware company that holds title to the Lenox Apartments located in Rohnert Park, California; Tilden-Lamplighter LLC is a California company that holds title to the Parc Station apartment complex located in Santa Rosa, California. FPI Management, Inc. is a California corporation that manages both the Lenox Apartments and the Parc Station Apartments as well as rental properties in 18 states, including 654 rental properties in California.
In April 2020, FHANC sent informational brochures explaining the new changes to the law to 50 housing providers and property managers in the region, including FPI Management, Inc. The informational brochure explained that rejecting rental applicants because they hold a government voucher constitutes unlawful discrimination based on source of income. The brochure also reiterated that existing law, which has been in effect since 2000, provides that a landlord who uses a minimum income threshold for a voucher holder must calculate that threshold based on the amount of rent that will be paid by the tenant, rather than the entire rent amount.
Ms. Ronda Brooks is a recipient of a housing choice voucher, which is federally-funded rental assistance – through the Sonoma County Housing Authority. In June of 2020, Ms. Brooks found a listing for the Lenox Apartments on the website Zillow.com and thought that it might be a good fit for her needs. She drove by the apartments, liked what she saw, and called to inquire about a unit. When Ms. Brooks talked with the agent, she asked if they accepted housing choice vouchers. The agent at Lenox told Ms. Brooks that they accepted vouchers, but that Ms. Brooks would need to have an income of at least $5,000 per month, or roughly 2.5 times the rent. Ms. Brooks explained that if she had income in that amount, then she would not have qualified for a Housing Choice Voucher in the first place. The employee responded that the $5,000 minimum income requirement was the Lenox Apartments’ policy.
Based on Ms. Brooks’ allegation, FHANC conducted an investigation in September 2020, replicating the experience of Ms. Brooks. A FHANC employee contacted the Lenox Apartments and an agent for the building told him that they accept Section 8, but only if the applicant has an income of at least 2.5 times the rent, and that this income requirement would still apply, even with the voucher.
In December 2020, an employee of the Sonoma County Housing Authority contacted FHANC and reported that multiple voucher holders were rejected for tenancy by FPI Management, Inc. at the Parc Station Apartments because they did not meet the building’s minimum monthly income requirement of 2.5 times the monthly rent, regardless of the amount of rent the tenant would be responsible for paying using their voucher. In January 2021, a FHANC employee called the Parc Station Apartments, and the agent confirmed that they accept vouchers but still require that all applicants make a minimum of 2.5 times the monthly rent to qualify.
“Discriminating against people who have housing choice vouchers is illegal, pure and simple,” said Caroline Peattie, Executive Director of FHANC. “The law requiring that a landlord must base income requirements for a voucher holders on their portion of the rent has been in effect for 20 years. A huge management company like FPI should not have policies in place that fail to comply with existing fair housing laws, and they should ensure all their agents are properly trained on those laws. We even sent them information about this specific law, and yet FPI still has discriminatory policies in place. As a result, we’ve had to redouble our efforts to educate the community that discrimination against housing choice vouchers is illegal.”
“I really hope that this lawsuit makes all landlords understand the law and change their polices,” said Ms. Brooks. “I want people to understand how important the law is to ensure that voucher holders can find housing. If landlords can refuse to rent to Housing Choice Voucher holders, it makes it incredibly difficult for people like me to find housing.”
Ms. Brooks is represented by Liza Cristol-Deman of Brancart & Brancart.
Note: This material is based on work supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under FHIP PEI Grant FPEI190035. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of HUD.
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California is a non-profit organization serving several Bay Area counties that provides free counseling, enforcement, mediation, and legal or administrative referrals to persons experiencing housing discrimination. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California also offers foreclosure prevention counseling, pre-purchase education, seminars to help housing providers fully understand fair housing law, and education programs for tenants and the community at large. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California is a HUD-Certified Housing Counseling Agency. Please call Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California at (415) 457-5025 or TDD: (800) 735-2922 for more information
As the day for celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King approaches, we have an opportunity to reflect on the past year with its many challenges – from COVID, to the police brutality that ignited the BLM movement, to the recent events at the Capitol; all these events inform our future actions and strategies.
Following Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968, and as the nation mourned him and angry riots raged in America's cities, President Lyndon Johnson pushed Congress to pass the Fair Housing Act. On April 11, 1968, seven days after Dr. King’s death, the Federal Fair Housing Act was finally enacted into law – a lasting legacy of a man who had put the issue of fair housing firmly on the map in 1966 with the Chicago freedom movement, and who had been at the forefront of the struggle for racial equality in the United States.
More than 50 years later, COVID-19 has highlighted the same racial inequities present in housing opportunities and accumulation of wealth. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum over the past year, so too did the white supremacist movement, something made abundantly clear on January 6, as our Capitol was overrun by rioters attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and the Confederate flag flew inside the Capitol. In these unprecedented times, I’m reminded of Dr. King’s insistence on peaceful protests, and these words when he accepted the Nobel Peace prize in 1964:
“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself.”
These are fitting words for where we now find ourselves.
I, along with our agency, recommit ourselves to the work we've undertaken to serve our community. In 2020, our agency began internally examining how to incorporate more anti-racist values into our policies, procedures, and individual beliefs. We are continuing to reflect on and implement them in 2021. We are committed to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Our advocacy with our local government agencies and recipients of federal housing to understand and commit to the mandate to affirmatively further fair housing – that is, actively address and work to eliminate housing discrimination and segregation – is ongoing. We redoubled our efforts to support and enforce our civil rights laws that the current administration did its best to undermine, and joined a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s recent reversal of long-standing fair housing protections.
There is hope: the new administration has clearly signaled its commitment to governance and to civil rights. That has been made clear through its choice of Marcia Fudge as the Secretary of HUD and Merrick Garland as U.S. Attorney General.
I couldn’t be prouder of our staff as they recommit themselves daily to our mission and to help victims of housing discrimination. In the coming weeks and months, we will learn more about how many or to what extent our political leaders will attempt to curtail their previous commitments to racial equity. In the multiracial society we live in, we all have a part to play in continuing to push for racial equity and anti-racism.
Thank you for your support and joining us in the peaceful struggle.
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California