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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,

Plaintiff,

v.

CHOICE PROPERTY CONSULTANTS,
INC. and KAREN SOUCIE,

Defendants.

COMPLAINT

The United States of America alleges as follows for its Complaint in this matter:

I. INTRODUCTION

1. The United States alleges that the defendants, Choice Property Consultants, Inc. and its president, Karen Soucie, have violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., by inquiring as to the discriminatory preferences of its landlord clients, by reflecting those discriminatory preferences on Vacancy Reports provided to Choice's agents and employees, and by honoring those preferences by failing to inform minority apartment seekers or apartment seekers with children of available units owned by landlords who did not wish to rent to minorities or to families with children. The United States seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.

II. PARTIES

2. This action is brought by the United States under 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a), and on behalf of the Housing Discrimination Project, Inc., under 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o).

3. The Housing Discrimination Project, Inc. (HDP), is a private non-profit corporation located in Holyoke, Massachusetts. HDP's mission is to promote fair housing practices, particularly in Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester Counties, Massachusetts.

4. The defendant, Choice Property Consultants, Inc. ("Choice"), is a Massachusetts corporation located at 10 Richmond Avenue, Worcester, Massachusetts.

5. The defendant, Karen Soucie, is the president and owner of Choice and is a licensed real estate broker. She resides at 11 Hadwen Road, Worcester, Massachusetts.

III. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

6. This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1345 and 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o).

7. Venue is proper in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) and 1395(a).

IV. FACTS

8. The defendants are engaged in the business of providing referrals of rental properties to apartment seekers. They seek listings from apartment owners, advertise those listings to prospective tenants, show available apartments to applicants, represent owners by taking applications from and performing credit checks on prospective tenants; and, in some cases, prepare leases between owners and renters. Choice advertises itself as "Worcester's #1 Leasing Company."

9. On July 22, 1996, HDP filed a Complaint against Choice with the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). The Complaint asserted that HDP had gathered evidence that Choice routinely steers Hispanic apartment seekers away from apartments owned by landlords who have asked Choice not to rent to Hispanics, and also routinely steers apartment seekers with children away from apartments owned by landlords who have asked Choice not to rent to families with children.

10. During its investigation, HDP learned that Choice employees made discriminatory statements to apartment seekers. One agent told potential renters that "the owner doesn't want kids." Another asked whether the apartment was for "a couple, no pets, no children", and a third asked whether an applicant was looking for something "deleaded."

11. During its investigation, HDP also uncovered "Vacancy Reports" prepared by Choice which were coded to reflect the discriminatory preferences of owners who had listed their properties with Choice. For example, some of the listings contain the term "Archie" or "Archiana" (in the case of a female owner) to denote those owners who would not rent to African American or Hispanic applicants. Other listings contain the phrase "no children" or "not deleaded", indicating the owner would not rent to families with children. (A sample "Vacancy Report" is attached hereto as Exhibit A).

12. On or about April 24, 1997, HDP amended its Complaint with HUD to add Karen Soucie, Choice's owner and President, as a respondent.

13. Pursuant to the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 3610(a) and (b), HUD conducted an investigation of HDP's complaint, attempted conciliation without success, and prepared a final investigative report. Based on the information gathered in the investigation, HUD, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3610(g)(1), determined that reasonable cause existed to believe that the discriminatory housing practices alleged by HDP had occurred.

14. During the course of its investigation, HUD learned that Choice told at least one of its agents to inquire as to the discriminatory preferences of its landlord clients before attempting to refer potential tenants to such clients.

15. On September 29, 1997, HUD issued a charge of discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3610(g)(2)(A), alleging that Choice had engaged in discriminatory housing practices in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c). The charge is attached hereto as Exhibit B.

16. On October 20, 1997, HDP elected to have the claims asserted in that charge resolved in a federal civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o).

17. On October 21, 1997, HUD, through its office of General Counsel, authorized the Department of Justice to file this civil action on behalf of HDP, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o)(1).

COUNT I - SECTION 3612(o)(1)

The United States repeats and incorporates by reference the allegations set forth in paragraphs 1-17 above.

18. Choice and Soucie have made, printed or published, or caused to be made, printed or published, notices, statements or advertisements with respect to the rental of dwellings that indicated preferences based on familial status and national origin in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c).

19. The discriminatory actions of Choice and Soucie were intentional, willful and taken in disregard for the rights of HDP.

20. As a result of the conduct of Choice and Soucie, HDP has suffered damages.

COUNT II - SECTION 3614(a)

21. The United States repeats and incorporates by reference the allegations set forth in paragraphs 1-20 above.

22. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3614(a), the United States has reasonable cause to believe that Choice and Soucie are engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of the rights granted by the Fair Housing Act, and that HDP has been denied rights granted by the Fair Housing Act and such denial raises an issue of general public importance.

23. Specifically, Choice and Soucie have refused to negotiate for the rental of, or otherwise made unavailable or denied, dwellings to persons because of race, color, family status or national origin, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a).

24. Moreover, Choice and Soucie have discriminated against persons in the terms, conditions or privileges of the rental of dwellings because of race, color, familial status or national origin, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b).

25. Moreover, Choice and Soucie have made, printed or published, or caused to be made, printed or published, notices, statements or advertisements with respect to the rental of dwellings that indicate preferences based on race, color, familial status or national origin, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c).

27. Finally, Choice and Soucie have represented to persons because of race, color, familial status or national origin that a dwelling was not available for inspection or rental when said dwelling was in fact so available, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(d).

28. As a result of the conduct of Choice and Soucie, HDP has suffered damages.

27. The discriminatory actions of Choice and Soucie were intentional, wilful and taken in disregard for the rights of HDP.

WHEREFORE, the United States prays for an Order from this Court that:

1. Declares that the discriminatory housing practices of Choice and Soucie, as set forth above, violate the Fair Housing Act;

2. Enjoins Choice and Soucie, and their agents, employees and successors, and all other persons in active concert or participation with them, from:

a. refusing to negotiate for the rental of, or otherwise making unavailable or denying, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, familial status or national origin, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a);

b. discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions or privileges of rental of a dwelling because of race, color, familial status or national origin, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b);

c. making, printing or publishing, or causing to be made, printed or published, any notices, statements or advertisements with respect to the rental of dwellings that indicate preferences based on race, color, familial status or national origin, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c); and

d. representing to persons because of race, color, familial status or national origin that a dwelling was not available for inspection or rental when such dwelling was in fact so available, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3604(d).

3. Awards such damages as will fully compensate HDP for injuries caused by the discriminatory conduct of Choice and Soucie pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o)(3) and § 3613(c); and

4. Awards punitive damages to HDP pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3614(d)(1)(B) and 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c).

5. Awards civil penalties to the United States in the amount authorized by 42 U.S.C. §3614(d)(1)(C) in order to vindicate the public interest.

The United States further prays for such additional relief as the interests of justice may require.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
By its attorneys,

JANET RENO,
Attorney General

Isabelle Katz Pinzler,
Acting Assistant Attorney General

Joan Magagna,
Acting Chief, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section

Barbara Kammerman
Director,
U.S. Attorneys Fair Housing Program
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Post Office Box 65998
Washington, D.C. 20035

DONALD K. STERN,
United States Attorney

David S. Mackey
John A. Capin,
Assistant U.S. Attorneys
1003 J.W. McCormack POCH
Boston, MA 02108

Dated November 17, 1997

General Information Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
 
Leadership
Steven H. Rosenbaum
Chief
Contact
Housing & Civil
Enforcement Section
(202) 514-4713
TTY - 202-305-1882
FAX - (202) 514-1116
To Report an Incident of Housing Discrimination:
1-800-896-7743
Mailing Contact
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, NWB
Washington, D.C. 20530

Email: fairhousing@usdoj.gov

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