Sunday, May 22, 2016

Facing Accusations Of Bullying Code Enforcement Efforts (Inspections w/ Armed Police Escorts, Arrest Threats, Unwarranted Condemnation, etc.) Targeting Mostly Non-English-Speaking Latino Mobile Home Owners, City Of Richmond Agrees To Cough Up $40K, Comply w/ Other Non-Monetary Terms To Settle Lawsuit Alleging Fair Housing/Civil Rights Violations

In Richmond, Virginia, WTVR-TV Channel 6 reports:
  • The City of Richmond has settled a housing discrimination lawsuit(1) over alleged civil rights violations of 33 current and former mobile home park residents.

    The residents, majority of them are Latino [of Mexican & Central American origin], were represented pro bono by the Legal Aid Justice Center(2) and the law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP. They alleged that an aggressive housing code enforcement campaign violated their civil rights.

    Neighbors in Rudd's Trailer Park were among those who sued, saying city inspectors with armed escorts went into their homes without warning. They said they felt targeted, because the inspector condemned homes for not meeting unrealistic standards.

    “This settlement is a positive outcome for our clients and for all mobile home park residents in the City of Richmond,” said Marie Diveley, Crowell & Moring senior counsel. “The City has agreed to take important steps that will not only benefit vulnerable mobile home park residents, but will also ensure that limited English speakers can access City services without unnecessary language barriers.”

    According to the lawsuit, the City also refused to provide adequate interpretation and translation services for the limited English proficient residents, in violation of federal civil rights laws.

    The city admitted no wrong-doing, but agreed to pay about $40,000 to help residents make repairs or relocate.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the City of Richmond agreed to institute policies that will help minimize the displacement of mobile home residents in future enforcement activities and will better serve residents who are not fluent in English.

    “This settlement is the culmination of a long process of negotiation to address serious concerns on both sides,” according to Phil Storey, the Legal Aid Justice Center’s lead attorney on the case. “We are pleased that the City and the residents were able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.”
Source: Mobile home residents, City of Richmond reach settlement in discrimination lawsuit.
(1) For the lawsuit, see Altamira-Rojas, et al. v City of Richmond, et. al.

Among the allegations made by the mobile home residents:
  • Beginning in 2012, the City adopted a policy targeting mobile homes and mobile home parks with an aggressive campaign of inspections and Virginia Maintenance Code (“VMC”) enforcement. The City formulated and, in early 2014, began executing this policy with the knowledge that it would likely result in the forced displacement of hundreds of disproportionately Latino families of Mexican and Central American national origin in violation, inter alia, of the federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.

    Even after a Coalition of concerned mobile home park residents and non-profit service providers approached the City offering less discriminatory alternatives that would address poor housing conditions without displacing families, the City continued to issue violation notices and to condemn mobile homes, leaving families homeless. Further, the City refused to provide these violation notices to Plaintiffs and other residents in languages other than English, despite the City’s knowledge that many of the Plaintiffs and other residents of the mobile home parks do not understand English.

    The City has subjected Plaintiffs and other mobile home park residents to: intrusive inspections with armed police escorts; threats of unwarranted condemnation, criminal prosecution, and large monetary fines; unreasonable and legally unjustified standards that make compliance nearly impossible; and no coordinated effort to address the entirely foreseeable mass displacement and resulting hardships created by condemnations.
(2) The Legal Aid Justice Center provides legal representation for low-income individuals in Virginia, having offices in Charlottesville, Falls Church, Petersburg and Richmond.