Sunday, January 01, 2017

Use Of Trained Fair Housing Testers In Hunt For Western Massachusetts Landlords Discriminating Against Families w/ Young Kids Continues; Four Owners, Agents Agree To Pay $13K To Settle Complaints That They Steered Families Away From Rentals Containing Lead Paint To Avoid State Law Requiring Hazard Abatement When Prospective Renters w/ Children Seek Housing

In western Massachusetts, the Amherst Bulletin reports:
  • Four landlords and rental agents in western Massachusetts — including one each in Amherst and Belchertown — will pay $13,000 in penalties after they agreed to settle allegations that they discriminated against families with children over the presence of lead-paint hazards in the homes and apartments they are attempting to rent.

    The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center,(1) based in Holyoke, announced that on Nov. 10 it settled the claims alleging that these companies, which own homes in Northampton, Amherst, Belchertown and other area communities, had intentionally directed families away from properties containing lead paint.

    They did so either by arguing that the homes were not suitable for rent as a way to protect children from the effects of lead paint, or by refusing to obtain a lead certificate by removing lead paint from the homes.

    Ashley Grant, legal director for the Fair Housing Center, said in a phone interview this week that the settlements came as the result of a “vigorous campaign” to protect families from this form of discrimination, and will be effective at lifting up all families seeking housing in the area by ensuring there is more safe housing available for rent.

    “We really are committed to redirecting our resources and ending this kind of discrimination,” Grant said.
    Lead paint rules

     In the four cases, filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, landlords or their agents corresponded with trained testers used by the Fair Housing Center to locate apartments available for rent on the website Craigslist.

    “In some of the cases they were discouraged from applying. In some they raised the issue of young children as a problem,” Grant said. “That puts families in a position where they are discriminated against, or denied housing, or offered housing that is not safe.”

    State law prohibits those renting properties from refusing to rent because of lead-based paint hazards, and if a family opts to rent these properties the property manager or owner must comply with requirements of deleading and removing all such hazards, Grant said.

    Both Bellicchi and Amaral have agreed to remove lead paint from their properties, Grant said.

    This proactive effort is the type of action appreciated by her agency, Grant said, as the housing stock in the region tends to be old, with three-quarters of residences built before the late 1970s ban on lead paint, and relatively few have been deleaded.

    “What we want to do is create more lead-safe properties,” Grant said.

    The money from the fines will be used to fund advertisements intended to inform families that they are welcome to rent any home, whether it has lead paint present. The funds will also pay for a public education campaign about this kind of discrimination.

    A similar effort in 2015 to identify lead paint discrimination, undertaken the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, led to a combined $9,500 against a local real estate company and two property owners.

    Massachusetts Fair Housing Center’s work is supported by grants from the HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives program.
For the story, see Landlords fined for alleged discrimination against families with children.
(1) The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (also known as the Housing Discrimination Project, Inc.) is a Holyoke-based non-profit law firm that provides free legal services and accepts housing discrimination complaints based on race, national origin, color, ancestry, religion, sex, disability, presence of minor children, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, marital status, military or veteran status, receipt of public assistance, including Section 8 housing assistance, receipt of housing subsidies or rental assistance, and genetic information. MFHC serves western Massachusetts - Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Counties. MFHC also preserves homeownership, by advocating for distressed homeowners in mortgage lending cases, and by assisting victims of foreclosure rescue scams.

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