Saturday, March 19, 2016

SW Florida Mobile-Home Park Operator Denies Discriminating Against Blacks, But Says Settling Undercover Sting-Triggered Fair Housing Suit w/ Feds For $40K Cheaper Than Coughing Up Over $100K To Fight Charges

In North Fort Myers, Florida, WZVN-TV Channel 7 reports:
  • Thomas Mere, the owner and operator of Mere’s Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park in North Fort Myers, agreed to pay $40,000 to resolve allegations that he discriminated against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

    The settlement, in the form of a consent order, must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

    The government’s complaint alleges Mere falsely told African Americans that no mobile homes, recreational vehicles or recreational vehicle lots were immediately available for rent, but told similarly-situated white persons that they were, in fact, available. According to the complaint, the defendant encouraged prospective white renters to consider residing and discouraged African Americans by, for example, referring them to another park, making discouraging comments about available units and failing to provide complete, accurate information about available units and lots.

    The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices.
    ***
    Under the settlement, the defendant will establish a fund of $30,000 to compensate victims of his discriminatory practices and pay a civil penalty of $10,000 to the United States. The agreement also requires the defendant implement non-discriminatory application and rental procedures at the park, undergo fair-housing training and provide periodic reports to the department.
    ***
    We got in contact with Thomas Mere, the man in question.

    "I am not racist at all," he said. "I have people of all different nationalities in my park, even I have a black gentleman over at my park on Ixoria Drive."

    He told us the African-American man who said he was denied a rental from Mere had lied on his application and that's why he was not offered a unit.

    "He lied where he used to live so I checked with the landlord there, and he said, 'No, a woman lived there with her children. He never did live there,'" Mere said. "I think it's wrong for any type of discrimination. He's been fair to me, I'd like to be fair to everybody else. Everyone has the right to a decent home, not just whites."

    Mere wants to fight the allegations but said settling was cheaper than spending more than $100,000 in court fees. He said that the fine was so hefty that he may be forced to close his park.

    Mere’s Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park is the second of its kind in North Fort Myers that's been fined for breaking the Fair Housing Act in less than six months.

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