March 7, 1996 in Nation/World

Landlords Pay For Discrimination Against Families Justice Department Settlement Largest In State History

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The assault on housing discrimination in Spokane continued Wednesday as the owner of two apartment buildings agreed to pay off families who claimed they were refused rentals because they had kids.

The U.S. Justice Department’s $76,000 settlement with the owner of Cedar Springs Estates and Cedar Creek Village apartment buildings was announced by U.S. Attorney James Connelly and the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance.

Connelly called it the biggest housing discrimination settlement in state history. He said the agreement and a separate Justice Department discrimination lawsuit prove Spokane landlords had better heed the U.S. Fair Housing Act.

The city’s biggest clearinghouse for rental units and two other major landlords face a federal lawsuit accusing them of treating kids almost like pets.

Until 1988, the housing act didn’t include discrimination against families with children.

Such behavior largely went unchecked until the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance expanded its Spokane operation in late 1994 and began collecting and investigating discrimination complaints.

Florrie Brassier, director of the non-profit alliance, said the settlement and the lawsuit just hint at Spokane’s unlawful housing habits. “What we’re talking about here is a small piece of the pie.”

The alliance’s complaint file indicates the most frequent victims of housing discrimination in Spokane are not Indians, blacks, Jews or other minorities. They’re families with children.

Of the 124 complaints received since November 1994, 40 were for discrimination against couples with kids. Last summer, “testers” posing as prospective tenants and landlords documented the problem.

The investigation triggered a lawsuit by Columbia Legal Services against Computerized, The Rental Co., which serves thousands of tenants and landlords each year. The Justice Department also sued Computerized, as well as two landlords, Joseph Blumel and Reugh Construction.

All of the companies deny the accusations.

The testers also confirmed complaints that the managers of Cedar Springs Estates and Cedar Creek Village refused to rent the upper-floor units of their complexes to families with young children.

Owners Richard and Donna Naccarato agreed to pay a total of up to $50,000 to people their complexes discriminated against. The company also paid $21,000 to the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance and another $5,000 in fines to the U.S. government.

Rich Algeo, a Spokane lawyer representing the Naccaratos, said the company’s rental policies reflected a desire for safety. He said the owners feared the upper balconies were too dangerous for young children.

“My clients’ concern was that minor children would play on the railing and topple over, or fall down the steps,” he said. “Much to our surprise, the Department of Justice maintains that is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.”

Algeo said the Naccaratos never were warned that their policies were unjust. But he said they want to comply with the law, not fight it.

John Relman, an attorney with the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, congratulated the Naccaratos for settling the case and “doing the right thing.”

He also said Spokane investigators have compiled some of the best evidence of family discrimination in the country.

Relman said he has never seen evidence as powerful as the proof that Computerized routinely asked landlords if children were acceptable. “It’s the equivalent of saying to a landlord, ‘Will you take African Americans. Yes? No? Or negotiable?’ It’s the same violation under the law.”

Relman said the Northwest Housing Alliance is joining the U.S. government’s lawsuit against the three Spokane rental outfits.

It’s unclear how many families will be eligible for the settlement money from the Naccaratos. Only two families so far have qualified. Both are represented by Spokane attorney Ken Isserlis, who shared their stories.

Tom and Lori Wegeleben tried to rent a three-bedroom apartment at Cedar Creek Village, 8424 N. Nevada. But when they asked about an available unit, the receptionist asked, “Are those your kids?” The Wegelebens said, yes, the 4-year-old and the 6-year-old belonged to them. The Wegelebens were then told they weren’t eligible to rent units on the upper floors.

The Wegelebens wanted to stay in north Spokane, but couldn’t find housing, Isserlis said. His other clients got rejected at both Cedar complexes because of their child, he said.

Brassier said many Spokane landlords are oblivious to laws protecting house-hunters against discrimination. She said many landlords have the attitude, “I’ve got a couple rentals, but I’m not a landlord.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Related suits Spokane lawsuits regarding allegations of discrimination against families with children: The U.S. Justice Department settled out of court Wednesday with the owners of the Cedar Springs Estates and Cedar Creek Village apartment buildings in north Spokane. A Justice Department discrimination lawsuit is pending against Computerized, The Rental Company, and landlords Reugh Construction and Joseph Blumel. Columbia Legal Services has also sued Computerized, Spokane’s biggest clearinghouse for rental units, for alleged discrimination against families with children.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Related suits Spokane lawsuits regarding allegations of discrimination against families with children: The U.S. Justice Department settled out of court Wednesday with the owners of the Cedar Springs Estates and Cedar Creek Village apartment buildings in north Spokane. A Justice Department discrimination lawsuit is pending against Computerized, The Rental Company, and landlords Reugh Construction and Joseph Blumel. Columbia Legal Services has also sued Computerized, Spokane’s biggest clearinghouse for rental units, for alleged discrimination against families with children.

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