Landlord to Get Schooled on Bias -- and Pay $1,000

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racist landlordYou renters -- and landlords out there -- might be unaware of this technicality, but advertising an apartment that's "perfect for students" or using other preferential language is against the law.

In a recent case out of Buffalo, N.Y., a landlord who described an available rental on Craigslist as in a "nice Irish neighborhood" was eventually hit with a discrimination complaint. And it's going to cost him $1,000, as well as some time learning about how not to make that mistake again.

Under federal and state fair-housing laws, the use of preferential or discriminatory language is illegal. Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a non-profit, civil rights organization in Buffalo, filed the federal complaint against property owner Abdul Aljamali. HOME represents victims with discriminatory claims and monitors local housing advertisements for acts of wrongdoing.

But this landlord was wrong not just in writing that ad but also in his actions.Most preferential language violations are not done with malice and HOME officials say the last recourse is taking legal action. However, the inquiry into the Buffalo property owner, Abdul Aljamali, revealed something much more sinister. "This began with looking into some innocent references, " says Scott Gehl, executive director of HOME. "And we were startled to find evidence of racial discrimination."

Aljamali asked a potential tenant who is African-American (sent as a tester by HOME) if she had children, which is in defiance of the state's Human Rights Law. And that's not all. Another tester from HOME who expressed interest in renting, this time white, was told by Aljamali, "There are no coloreds here.... I hope your husband isn't black."

HOME routinely watches for signs of bias in rental advertisements throughout Western New York and when they see something that violates the law, they flag it. Most of the time the organization handles innocuous matters by outreach to educate landlords, as through an informational letter or a mailing their publication, "A Guide to Landlords' Rights."

But they also might chose to investigate the matter further and test it with potential renters. In the Aljamali case, as disclosed in the federal complaint, HOME found verified acts of discrimination.

Aljamali responded to the complaint by agreeing to pay $1,000 and attend a series of HOME-coordinated workshops and seminars that educate on fair-housing laws. But there was no admission of guilt. This kind of money, which is recovered in a small amount of cases, will be funneled back into the organization's investigative efforts, HOME officials explain.

Each year HOME, one of dozens of fair-housing institutions across the nation, deals with around 250 cases of discrimination, which in large part is filing cases on behalf of victims that seek them out, as well as what the organization pursues internally.

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