The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by the owners, operators and rental agent of several apartment complexes in Pearl, Miss., and violation of the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African Americans based on their race, according to a release.
The department’s complaint seeks relief against three owners and operators of the properties — SSM Properties LLC; Steven Maulding; and Sheila Maulding — as well as James Roe, who acted as a rental agent for the apartment complexes on behalf of the other defendants. The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center and a charge of discrimination issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Testing is a simulation of a housing transaction that compares responses given by housing providers to different types of home-seekers to determine whether or not illegal discrimination is occurring.
According to the department’s complaint, Roe encouraged white testers to rent at Pearl Manor Apartments but discouraged African-American testers from renting there, telling one African-American tester that if he rented to her at this complex, the residents would think he had “let the zoo out.”
In addition, Roe told African-American testers about fewer rental units than white testers, allowed white testers to view certain apartments while not offering or allowing African-American testers the same opportunity, and imposed more stringent financial and employment criteria and inquiries on African-American testers than on white testers. The lawsuit alleges that SSM Properties and Steven and Sheila Maulding are legally responsible for Roe’s alleged racial discrimination because he worked as their rental agent.
Fair Housing Act prohibits racial discrimination
“More than a half century ago, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act to prohibit landlords and others from denying people the opportunity to live where they want because of their race, color, or other protected characteristics,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in the release.
“Some misguided people unfortunately continue to defy this law by segregating and excluding people because of their skin color. This uncivilized and cruel discrimination hurts people; it must end, now, and the Department of Justice is determined to put a stop to it. All Americans should be free to live anywhere in the United States without regard to the color of their skin. No one’s housing choices should be limited because of race or color or by more subtle differences in the way home-seekers are treated when they ask about available properties. This department is committed to ensuring equal housing opportunities, regardless of race, including by using fair-housing testing to uncover hidden discrimination that might otherwise go undetected.”
“Treating people differently in housing based on the color of their skin is not only morally and ethically reprehensible and incompatible with American principles, but against federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst of the Southern District of Mississippi. “We in the Department of Justice will always strive to ensure that justice is done and that people are treated equitably and fairly, especially when seeking and trying to access such an essential cornerstone of a free society as housing.”