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Friday, October 17, 2014

Justice Department Sues Wisconsin Mobile Home Park for Discriminating Against Families with Children

The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the owners and operators of the Twin Oaks Mobile Home Park, a 230-lot mobile home park, in Whitewater, Wisconsin, for refusing to allow families with children to live in certain areas of the park, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. 

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Madison, Wisconsin, alleges that the owner of Twin Oaks, Twin Oaks Mobile Home Park, Inc. and its managers—Merrill Eugene Gutzmer and Dennis Hansen—violated the Fair Housing Act by maintaining and enforcing a policy of not allowing families with children to reside in an area that includes approximately 60 of the 230 lots within the park.  The park does not limit residency to older persons.  The complaint further alleges that, under the policy described above, the defendants refused to approve the application for residency of a single woman who planned to purchase the home of a former resident and live there with her then two-year-old child.  The single woman and the mobile home owner who was trying to sell her mobile home subsequently filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).  After conducting an investigation, HUD found that the defendants had violated the Fair Housing Act, and referred the matter to the Department of Justice.  

“For over twenty-five years, the Fair Housing Act has prohibited housing providers from refusing to rent or sell housing to families with children,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran for the Civil Rights Division.  “Many parents are already struggling to find affordable housing for their families, and they should not also have to face discrimination because they have children.”

“This office is committed to ensuring that all residents in this district, including families with children, are afforded equal opportunity to rent and live where they choose under the Fair Housing Act,” said U.S. Attorney John W. Vaudreuil for the Western District of Wisconsin.  “Discrimination based on familial status will not be tolerated in this district.”           

“HUD and the Department of Justice will continue to enforce the Fair Housing Act to ensure that the housing options of families are not illegally limited because they have children,” said HUD Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

The suit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to bring their policies and practices into compliance with the Fair Housing Act, as well as monetary damages for persons harmed and civil penalties to the United States.  Anyone with information about potential discrimination against families with children at Twin Oaks should call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox #9997, or call the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin, at (608) 264-5158.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability.  Among other things, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse to rent housing and to discriminate in the terms or conditions of housing rentals because of familial status, except in specified categories of housing that are reserved for older persons.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.

Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or through www.hud.gov.

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct.  The allegations in the complaint must still be proven in federal court.

Updated August 28, 2015