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Morris rental complexes fined over bias charges
The Star Ledger- September 22, 2001
The operators of three apartment complexes in
Morris County have agreed to pay $250,000 to settle Justice Department
charges that they refused to rent to blacks and discriminate against families
with children, authorities said yesterday.
The department in July 1999 sued Garden Homes
Management, the rental agent, and the owners of Lake view Garden Apartments,
Westgate Garden Apartments and Redstone Garden
Apartments in Parsippany.
The lawsuit came after trained "testers"
posed as prospective tenants inquiring about the availability of rental
units. Black and white testers presented comparable information about
employment and income.
The complaint charged that black applicants were
told apartments were not available but white applicants were told the were available. Families with children were restricted
to first-floor units, or told that apartments were not available when there
were vacancies, the government alleged.
The case was the 56th brought under a nationwide
fair housing test program aimed at detecting illegal discrimination.
The Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey also
participated in the tests, in April and May 1998, and the complexes which
have a total of 458 units, the Justice Department said.
The settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in
Newark, awaits court approval. It provides that the defendants pay $200,000
to compensate victims of racial or family status, and $50,000 in civil
Can't Reject Vouchers - Woman wins fight for Section 8 funds
by Ronald Leir - Journal Staff Writer
(West New York, March 24, 1999) -- Nellie Martinez
waited five and a half years to get a federal Section 8 rent voucher.
Then, when she finally got one, in April 1996, her landlord
refused to take it because he didn't want to deal with the paperwork.
But Martinez, a widow living on her Social Security income,
wouldn't take no for an answer. She got her lawyer to fight it.
And yesterday, she won.
In a unanimous decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court
ruled landlords cannot refuse to participate in a federal rent assistance
program if their tenants are eligible for it.
The court said Franklin tower One, L.L.C., owner of an 18
unit apartment building at 211 64th St., must accept Section 8 vouchers and
cannot evict a Section 8 tenant for nonpayment of rent.
New Jersey now becomes only the second state - joining
Massachusetts - to protect Section 8 tenants from discrimination by
landlords, according to John N. Ukegbu, Martinez'
Hudson County Legal Services Corp. attorney.
Ukegbu said the case's outcome
shows that, "New Jersey is in the forefront of protecting its citizenry,
especially those in need of assistance, like senior citizens living on fixed
In April 1996, Martinez, then 65, came to legal Services
after her then-landlord, Vincent Aliano, of Sava Holding Corp., wouldn't accept her Section 8 voucher
toward payment of her monthly $425 rent.
"He claimed the Section 8 program (which pays a
portion of the rent) was too burdensome and involved him filling out too many
papers," Ukegbu said.
"I reached out to the West New York Housing Authority
(which serves as a conduit for the federal rent aid) and asked if they'd pay
the fair market rent for her apartment, which would have been $537 a
month," Ukegbu recalled.
But Aliano stood his ground, he
After Martinez withheld her May rent, Aliano
took her to court, seeking her eviction for nonpayment of rent.
Ukegbu argues that state law
prohibited New Jersey landlords from discriminating against tenants because
of where they got their rental income but, in a September ruling, Superior
Court Judge Hector Velazquez, sitting in Jersey
City, upheld the landlord, saying that Aliano could
refuse Section 8 because it was a voluntary program.
But the Appellate Court, in an October 1997 opinion,
That opened the door to an appeal by the landlord to the
state's highest tribunal and both sides enlisted a host of advocacy groups to
Franklin Tower One, who had, by this time, acquired the
West New York property, agreed to take on the case and the company signed on
such groups as the National landlords Association, National Association of
Home builders and the Institute of Real Estate Management as allies.
And it hired Jersey City attorney Tara D'Amato, a
part-time Jersey City assistant corporation counsel, as its counsel.
Lining up behind Martinez were the National Housing Law
Project, of California; the Connecticut Fair Housing Coalition and
Connecticut Legal Services Corp.; New jersey Tenants Organizations; and St.
Paul Tenants Union of Minnesota.
"It was an important case because it had national
implications," Ukegbu said.
In its decision, the Supreme Court noted that recent
welfare reforms dedicated more money to the housing program to help people
move from welfare to work. It said requiring landlords to accept these
Section 8 vouchers "will facilitate those welfare reform efforts."
Because the case addressed an existing tenant, the court
said it is not required to decide if a property owner who has never
participated in the housing voucher program must accept new tenants receiving
However, the court noted a New Jersey law prohibiting
discrimination based on a tenant's source of income or the source of a
tenant's lawful rental payments "makes no distinction between existing
tenants and prospective tenants."
Martinez wasn't around to celebrate her long-awaited
victory. She moved to her daughter's place in Florida a few weeks ago
and there, Ukegbu said, she is finally enjoying the
right to her Section 8 voucher.
Under federal rules, the rental aid certificates may be
transferred to qualified apartments anywhere in the country.
West New York Housing Authority Executive Director Robert DiVincent said the authority typically reserves a Section
8 voucher for up to 60 days but made an exception for Martinez because of the