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Fair Housing Center Files Suit Over Discrimination Against Deaf Homeseekers

Posted on 14. Jul, 2014 by

On Friday, July 11, 2014, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and one deaf plaintiff filed suit against Craig Tolbert, owner of NOLA Apartments, in federal court. The complaint alleges the company discriminated against deaf individuals seeking to rent apartments. Specifically, NOLA Apartments employees misrepresented the availability of housing and made discriminatory statements to deaf individuals who expressed interest in renting homes from the company.

Throughout 2013, GNOFHAC used “mystery shopping” to investigate NOLA Apartments and uncovered disturbing, illegal behavior. For example, in May 2013, a deaf mystery shopper called NOLA Apartments using a relay system to inquire about renting a one bedroom apartment. An agent at NOLA Apartments answered the phone and told the mystery shopper that she “didn’t have time” and hung up. The mystery shopper called back and the NOLA Apartments agent immediately hung up on her. On the third call, the NOLA Apartments agent told the mystery shopper that there were “no units available.” The calls were recorded by the IP-Relay system’s transcript. Later that day, a hearing mystery shopper called NOLA Apartments to inquire about renting a one bedroom. A NOLA Apartments agent told the tester that a one-bedroom apartment was available for $1,675 per month. The conversation was captured on a digital recorder. During a follow-up investigation, an agent told a deaf mystery shopper over the phone that she “can’t devote a long time to [the deaf individual] on the phone” and that the deaf individual “need[s] to have someone who can hear to speak” and hung up the phone.

The Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination in housing on the basis of a person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or family status (whether or not a person has children). In the complaint, GNOFHAC alleges that Craig Tolbert and NOLA Apartments violated the Fair Housing Act by misrepresenting the availability of housing on the basis of disability, making housing unavailable on the basis of disability, and making a discriminatory statement on the basis of disability.

Further, the complaint alleges that NOLA Apartments violated a 2011 conciliation agreement that enjoins it from discriminating in housing. The conciliation agreement resolved an administrative complaint that GNOFHAC filed against the company alleging discrimination on the basis of family status.

Before filing in court, GNOFHAC attempted to resolve the matter with another administrative complaint. On June 11, 2014, the Louisiana Department of Justice determined that reasonable cause exists to believe that NOLA Apartments engaged in unlawful housing discrimination. However, the parties were unable to reach an agreement through the conciliation process.

GNOFHAC Executive Director James Perry comments, “People deserve an equal opportunity to live in a home that meets their needs regardless of whether or not they have a disability. We have grave concerns about NOLA Apartments’ practices since this is the second time in less than five years that we have caught them engaged in egregious acts of illegal housing discrimination. We urge Mr. Tolbert to step up to the plate and give potential renters a fair shot as is required by law.”

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Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is a private nonprofit organization. GNOFHAC is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination and furthering equal housing opportunities through education, outreach, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws across the metro New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. The activities described in this release were privately funded.

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