The Justice Department announced today that the manager and owner of the Geneva Terrace Apartments Inc. in La Crosse, Wis., have agreed to pay $57,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging they violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African-Americans who were seeking to rent apartments at the complex.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on Oct. 26, 2011, alleged that Nicolai Quinn, the manager of the apartment complex, told prospective African-American renters that apartments were not available when they were, while telling prospective white renters that there were apartments available.
“Nobody should be denied housing in this country because of their race.” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights. “The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, and we will continue to vigorously enforce the law to ensure access to housing regardless of the race of an applicant.”
“The Department of Justice and this U.S. Attorney’s Office will do everything possible to ensure that everyone has the freedom to choose where they live, regardless of race,” said John W. Vaudreuil, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.
“It’s against the law to misrepresent a home’s availability because of race,” said John Trasviña, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and the Justice Department will continue to take action against anyone who violates the nation’s fair housing laws.”
As alleged in the complaint, in 2009 and 2010, Quinn told an African-American couple who were interested in renting an apartment in Geneva Terrace that there were no apartments available, even though the complex had posted a sign advertising vacancies. The couple found it suspicious and asked a white friend to contact the complex. Quinn told the white friend that he had available apartments. The couple then reported their experience to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC), a nonprofit fair housing organization. MMFHC conducted fair housing tests, which confirmed that Quinn was telling African Americans that apartments were not available while showing available apartments to white persons.
The couple also filed a complaint with HUD, which conducted an investigation and, after issuing a charge of discrimination, referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
Under the terms of the settlement, which is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court, the defendants will pay the complainants $47,500 in damages. Defendants will also pay a civil penalty of $10,000 to the United States. Defendant Geneva Terrace Apartments LLC will also develop and maintain non-discrimination housing policies and attend fair housing training.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.
Fighting housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex familial status, national origin and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt . Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination or have information related to this lawsuit can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.