2 local apartment complexes named in discrimination lawsuit - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

2 local apartment complexes named in discrimination lawsuit

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WASHINGTON (WCIV) -- The National Fair Housing Alliance announced that it filed eight housing discrimination complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against major apartment complex owners for discriminating against the deaf.

The management companies named are located in Little Rock, Ark., Sacramento, Calif., Atlanta and Savannah, Ga., Long Beach, Miss., Charleston, North Charleston, and Lexington, S.C., and Austin, Texas.  

The complaints allege discrimination against the deaf and hard of hearing across the United States.

The complaints came after a year-long investigation into the practices of housing communities.  

"The findings of NFHA's deaf and hard of hearing investigation are a major cause for concern," said Shanna L. Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. "Seniors, young people and veterans make up the majority of people with hearing loss in the United States. The fact that some apartment owners refuse to even consider renting to deaf persons is appalling and it is illegal.  Enforcement changes behavior and NFHA intends to use the full force of the Fair Housing Act to open up housing choice for deaf and hard of hearing persons."

During the investigation, a deaf tester described her experience trying to find an apartment.

"In this investigation, I experienced barriers to getting rental housing that deaf and hard of hearing individuals experience on a daily basis across the country. My deafness has no bearing on my ability to pay rent or be a good tenant. To be denied housing or treated differently because I am deaf is unacceptable," she said.

The woman was a tester in Atlanta, Savannah, and Sacramento.  

Locally, the Berkshire Apartments in West Ashley allegedly spoke to a deaf tester, but did not send any follow-up information. In a follow-up call made by a non-hearing-impaired person, a leasing agent later left a voicemail asking if the tester was still interested in an apartment. 

At the Pine Crest Apartments in North Charleston, a rental agent allegedly hung up on a tester after finding out the person was deaf. For a non-hearing-impaired tester, the person spoke to an agent and got information about the apartment homes. 

"This investigation demonstrates that housing discrimination clearly exists for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, which warrants the continued importance of testing apartment complex owners and management companies to monitor and abate such discrimination," said Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. "This investigation is only the first step towards eradicating discrimination against deaf and hard of hearing people seeking housing.  Much more needs to be done to assure that landlords and others know their responsibilities under the law and that home seekers understand their rights.  No one should ever have to experience such barriers to finding a home."

"It is very disturbing that the deaf and hard of hearing are being so poorly treated by apartment complex owners in Austin and across the country," said Kathy Stark, Executive Director of the Austin Tenants' Council. "There is no reason why the deaf or hard of hearing should have to face obstacles like this when attempting to find a place to live."   

NFHA conducted 304 tests of 117 apartment complexes in 25 states. Of those tested, one out of four treated deaf callers differently from hearing callers in a manner that appeared to violate the Fair Housing Act, the NFHA found.

In follow-up testing of those that may have discriminated in the first call, the NFHA found that at least 40 percent hung up on a deaf caller at least once, 86 percent gave more details about the homes to people who were not hearing impaired, and 56 percent mentioned further background and financial checks to be qualified. 

"The Hearing Loss Association of America supports the recommendations contained in this report and encourages policy makers and the rental industry to move quickly toward implementation," commented Anna Gilmore Hall, Executive Director of HLAA.  "HLAA also hopes that all businesses understand the potential negative impact to their bottom line by not meeting the growing demands and expectations of the 48 million people with hearing loss."

To read NFHA's report on housing discrimination against the deaf and hard of hearing, and NFHA's series of videos, please go to www.nationalfairhousing.org.  

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