Housing News

Couple charged for refusing to rent to African Americans

fair housing

HUD announced today charges against a New Jersey couple who actively discouraged African Americans from renting units in any of their buildings. If true, they face substantial financial penalties.

fair housing

Fair Housing Act charges filed in New Jersey

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), after an investigation in North Arlington, New Jersey, a couple has been charged with violating the Fair Housing Act for allegedly denying rental opportunities to African Americans.

HUD alleges that Michael and Mary Ann Pontoriero refused to show apartments in either of the two buildings they own and after learning a prospective tenant was African American, they refused to return their calls. A HUD investigation found the discriminatory behavior in four separate tests conducted by local Fair Housing authorities.

HUD brings this charge on behalf of the prospective tenant after he called to inquire about one of Pontoriero’s apartments. A showing was scheduled anad confirmed but HUD alleges the building owners never showed once it was learned the man was African American. Local HUD authorities conducted four paired tests using a white tester and black tester in each test, resulting in Michael Pontoriero refusing to show up for appointments or return calls when he learned a potential renter was African American.

Actively discouraging African Americans from renting

Additionally, the owner would allegedly drive by or arrive early to the appointment to discover a prospect’s race and that when he did end up showing a unit to an African American tester, he failed to highlight apartment features or go with them from room to room as he had white testers, then failed to provide an application, and actively discouraged black testers from applying to rent. Lastly, one test found that he quoted an African American tester $100 more per month than the white tester on the same day.

The HUD 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. Damages may be awarded if the couple is found guilty and there may be an order of injunctive relieve to deter future discrimination.

The Fair Housing Act

The Federal Fair Housing Act, established in 1968, protects civil rights in housing and prohibits housing providers, including condominium associations, from denying housing to anyone based on \a person’s national origin, sex, race, religion, or color.

In 1988, disability (codified by the ADA in 1990) and familial status were both included, many states and local communities also have also included members of the military as a protected class, and now, the National Association of Realtors has amended the Code of Ethics to include protections for all sexual orientations. HUD, along with all HUD insured housing likewise announced that they will not discriminate against actual or perceived sexually identity, or orientation.

In HUD’s words, “The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation in its rules, policies, practices, or services when needed to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling.”

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