Remedy for a racially discriminatory landlord?
March 8, 2013 12:59 PM   Subscribe

What can be done about a landlord of 30+ units who has admitted (privately) to not renting units to african americans (in a majority black city)? Who should be contacted, and with what information?

A friend (who I've known for years and who has zero penchant for exaggeration) was apartment shopping with the owner/property manager of 30+ units in South St Louis. When she asked a straightforward question about building security, he said (paraphrasing): "You don't have to worry about crime, here. I only rent to the right kind of people. [more patter] There are no blacks in any of my units."

As of the last census the neighborhood where most of his properties are located is 55% black, so the "no blacks in my units" can't be from demographic chance, and I think it is very reasonable to assume that if this is true it is the result of deliberate discrimination.

I have no other evidence past this private comment, but my friend has expressed her willingness to make a statement about what she heard to whichever body would help.

My question is in two parts: 1.) who should be contacted, and with what information, in order to remedy this, and 2.) how are situations like this remedied?

Location: South St. Louis, 8th, 19th, and 15th Wards. Feel free to send along any private suggestions or questions to: Thanks much.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This seems to be the pertinent information, if you mean St. Louis, MO.
posted by batmonkey at 1:02 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your friend experienced discrimination (not sure if so, but probably doesn't hurt to fill out the complaint) you can contact HUD and file a report.
posted by quodlibet at 1:03 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

To address your second question, here, for example, is a press release about how a housing discrimination investigation was handled by the New York Attorney General.
posted by rustcellar at 1:15 PM on March 8, 2013

It might not be a bad idea to contact one or all of the aldermen (alderpeople?) for the relevant wards. (link) I've found our alderperson to be fairly responsive to diverse issues in the past (south city, but different wards). As a plus, I know Marlene Davis (19th ward) is on the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Legislation committee and would probably have access to good resources.
posted by oh really at 1:15 PM on March 8, 2013

I have heard that HUD sends 2 people to inquire about renting an apartment, one of the demographic for which discrimination against is being investigated, and one of another demographic. Each of these people submits a detailed report. HUD may find that discrimination was occurring even if the person of the first demographic did not feel discriminated against, for instance if they were shown a unit in a poor location as the only one available and the other person was shown a nicer unit.
posted by yohko at 1:16 PM on March 8, 2013

There may also be state fair housing laws that would apply here, I'm guessing you would report that to some sort of state agency. In my state that would be the Equal Rights Commission.
posted by yohko at 1:17 PM on March 8, 2013

In addition to the suggestions above, your friend might consider contacting local social justice organizations (such as Missouri Association for Social Justice, which I know nothing about, but found through a search engine) and asking if they are investigating housing discrimination claims or know anyone who is because she has encountered something disturbing and wanted to share the information with someone who might be able to use it.

My social justice organization (in Chicago, so not useful to you) often knows who is pulling together information for class actions, or for research projects, or the like. We can't always do anything with random reports from the public, but sometimes we can and it's often very helpful.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:20 PM on March 8, 2013

Oh, and if you happened to mean remedy in the sense of monetary compensation that would result from an individual or class action lawsuit, you should talk to a lawyer before you talk to anyone else.
posted by yohko at 1:23 PM on March 8, 2013

This press release about a DOJ FHA lawsuit in Missouri in 2009 may be informative. Definitely a call to HUD (scroll down to Region VII for a list of folks in the St. Louis office. You can also file a complaint from this page). The DOJ also has an FHA testing program. Finally, you can also call the
posted by lassie at 2:07 PM on March 8, 2013

Doesn't someone actually have to have applied and been turned down before there's any action? The guy could be lying. Are there any African-Americans living in any of the buildings? A random statement to a potential renter could be just him trying to sell her on the space. Just calling up and saying "he said this!" seems sort of feeble.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:57 PM on March 8, 2013

I don't know, but you should do something—definitely look into reporting it to some of the various individuals and agencies listed above, so they can look into it further. As someone who lives in St. Louis, I hate to hear that there's a landlord out there pulling shit like this.
posted by limeonaire at 7:06 PM on March 8, 2013

Wow. St Louis. So that's where my old landlord went.

Seriously, he sounded just like your guy. The exact quote was
--We do have some minorities here, but none of the bad kind.
Long pause.
--I didn't know there was a bad kind.
--Oh, yeah, and they all live in Watts.

Here is a link to an LA Times report on the lawsuit that was filed a few years later by a fair housing organization. It led to a change in management and resident mix even before it was settled, and then it was the biggest individual housing discrimination settlement ever.

Definitely worth reporting.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:29 PM on March 8, 2013

Oh, Ideefixe, check out the link I posted.
An applicant reported his experience to the Westside Fair Housing Org, and they sent out some potential renters to see what would happen. The whites were offered units, the black woman was told that nothing was available, and Bob's your uncle.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:33 PM on March 8, 2013

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