WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today announced that it has obtained a $63,000 settlement in a housing discrimination case involving a white family who was forced to move from their Tallassee, Alabama home after a visit from their African American neighbors.
Brought under the Fair Housing Act, HUD alleged that the family's landlord told the tenants that they had to leave if they intended to have African-American visitors.
A formal investigation conducted by HUD showed that last February, Melissa Jones and her fiancé entered into a lease agreement with owners Wilbur and Julie Williams to rent their property in Tallassee, Alabama.
Last June, while Ms. Jones and her fiancé were talking with African American neighbors in the front yard, the Williamses drove by and saw the couples talking.
Later that same day, Ms. Williams called Ms. Jones and allegedly said, "If y'all want to have African Americans to visit, we're going to ask you to move...We're not having those people at our property.
We own the property and...that's never happened and we're not going to start today with it happening." Ms. Williams allegedly made similar discriminatory comments on at least two other occasions.
Based on these statements, Ms. Jones and her family vacated the property.
HUD charged the Williamses with violating the federal Fair Housing Act for making discriminatory statements, and for intimidating and coercing Ms. Jones and her family into vacating the property prior to the end of their lease.
A Consent Order, filed with the HUD Office of Administrative Law Judges, requires the Williamses to pay Ms. Jones and her family $53,000 for compensatory damages and attorneys' fees, and a $10,000 civil money penalty to the federal government.
The Williamses must also take part in fair housing training and are enjoined from any further violations of the Fair Housing Act.
"America has struggled hard to promote and sustain racially integrated neighborhoods," said Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
"A person has the right to associate with whomever they choose, regardless of their race. When anyone interferes with this right to deny a family their legal housing rights, HUD will not hesitate to act."
HUD and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate approximately 10,000 housing complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (tty).