WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it has charged a La Crosse, Wisconsin landlord with violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to rent an apartment to an African American couple because of their race. HUD brings the charge on behalf of the couple, alleging that Geneva Terrace, Inc. and Victoria Gerard, the owner of Geneva Terrace Apartments, and property manager Nicolai Quinn refused to show anapartmentto the complainants. Additionally, they falsely represented to the couple and other black applicants that no units were available,while informing white applicants of available unitsand encouraging them to apply.
The Fair Housing Actprohibits housing discrimination based on race.
“Fairness dictates, and the Fair Housing Act requires, that housing providers not use race to deny anyone their housing choice,” stated John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “While it’s appalling that such discrimination still occurs in America today, HUD is there to counter it whenever it happens.”
According to HUD’s charge, the husband of the couple called to inquire about renting a two-bedroom apartment after a white friend, who once lived at Geneva Terrace, recommended it to him. The husband spoke to Quinn, who told him that there was no apartment available at the time. The couple made several more inquiries over the next few months after noticing newspaper advertisements for apartments at the property and seeing a “Now Renting” sign outside the property. With each inquiry, Quinn allegedly told the couple that there were no vacancies. When a white friend of the couple calledto inquire about apartments, however, Quinn told the white woman that a two-bedroom unit was available and offered to show it to herjust fifteen minutes after he told the wife that there was no unit available.
The couple reported their experience to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, which initiated telephone and in-person testing at the building. The charge alleges that overa period of two months, the Council sent black and white testers to make inquiries about the availability of two-bedroom apartments at the complex. Quinn repeatedlytold the black testers that there were no vacancies, while inviting white testers to view the apartments.
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 illegal discrimination has occurred, he may award monetarydamages to the couple and their minor child.
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 more than 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).
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