US Govt steps in to check racism against Indian tenants

US Govt steps in to check racism against Indian tenants

The US Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the owner and management of an apartment complex at Renton in Washington State for racial discrimination against Indians who were treated less favourably than other tenants and even told to "go back" to India.

The lawsuit seeking monetary damages and an order barring further discrimination was filed yesterday in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington and named as defendants Summerhill Place LLC -- the owner of Summerhill Place Apartments; GRAN Inc. -- the management company; and Rita Lovejoy -- the former on site manager.

The suit alleges, among other things, that the defendants steered Indian tenants away from one of the five buildings at Summerhill, treated tenants from India less favourably than other tenants and discouraged African-Americans, Hispanics and families with children from living at Summerhill. The names of Indians have not been revealed.

"Equal access to housing in the United States is a fundamental right, and this nation will not tolerate discrimination in housing," said Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E Perez. The Justice Department alleged that the owner and management of apartment complex instructed its staff not to show new or renovated apartments to people from India, Hispanics and African Americans.

The company and its staff engaged in discriminating against Indian tenants by not replacing their carpets or their broken appliances, while providing such services to other similarly situated tenants, the law suit alleges. It also alleges that one or more Indian tenants were told that their children cannot play outside and that they should take them to park to play. They were also allegedly told to "go back to India" if they could not learn how to work their appliances and faced other derogatory comments about their national origin.

"Few things are more fundamental to success and happiness than having a safe place to live. Fair and equal access to housing is a cornerstone of our society," said US Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny A Durkan. "Apartment owners must ensure that their managers treat all tenants and potential tenants, in a fair and equitable manner without regard to race, national origin or whether they have children. The US Attorney's Office will actively pursue these cases with the goal of fairness and equity for all," Durkan said.

As alleged in the complaint, two Summerhill employees contacted the King County Office of Civil Rights (KCOCR) in 2007 and complained of discriminatory housing practices at Summerhill. KCOCR then contracted the Fair Housing Council of Washington to conduct testing at Summerhill. After testing was conducted, KCOCR referred the matter to HUD (Housing and Urban Development Department). After an investigation, the Secretary of HUD determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that discriminatory housing practices had occurred and issued a charge of discrimination. The defendants elected to have the matters asserted in the HUD charge heard in federal court.

"Housing discrimination is illegal and unacceptable," said Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña.
"HUD and the Justice Department work to eliminate it," he said. The suit seeks monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants' actions, civil penalties and a court order barring future discrimination.