Suffolk University Law School students in the Housing Discrimination Testing Program and their attorney supervisor have settled a case in which local landlords have agreed to pay former tenants $19,000 in damages and fees and to waive unpaid rent totaling more than $3,500. The case brought by Suffolk Law’s team stemmed from violations of fair housing laws and the Massachusetts lead paint laws and eviction of a family after one member became pregnant.
The students represented the Chelsea, Mass., family, which claimed that it was unlawfully evicted from its home of more than a decade due to the presence of lead paint in a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) complaint against the landlords.
The complaint alleged that when a family member became pregnant, the landlord forced her to leave the apartment and then evicted the entire family. Family members were forced to live apart while seeking new housing. The MCAD found probable cause that the landlords likely discriminated against the family in violation of the state’s fair housing and lead paint laws. The matter settled before public hearing.
Students interviewed and counseled the clients, drafted pleadings, participated in the MCAD conciliation, drafted and responded to discovery, assisted with five depositions, led the settlement negotiation discussions and drafted the settlement agreement.
"Treating families with children differently from other tenants is against the law," said Susan Forward, HUD New England Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity director. "HUD is committed to taking action against anyone who unlawfully denies housing to families."
Under federal and state fair housing laws, it is illegal to refuse to rent to qualified applicants or to evict tenants when children under the age of 18 or pregnant women are part of a family unit.
“The permissive attitude in the community toward this type of discrimination must change. Families with children deserve safe and healthy homes and should not be forced out by landlords trying to avoid the cost of making an apartment lead safe,” said Professor William Berman, Director of Suffolk’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program.
Refusal to rent to a family with a child under the age of 6 because there is lead paint in the unit violates the Massachusetts lead law, which mandates that if a child under the age of 6 resides in a residential property built before 1978, the property must be made lead safe. Making a unit lead safe involves removing or covering the hazardous paint. Housing providers who deny families the ability to choose where they want to live based on membership in a protected class, such as familial status, also deny that family access to health care, educational and economic opportunities, and many other important quality-of-life matters. Every qualified renter has the right to be fairly considered for tenancy and not denied opportunity because of an illegal discriminatory reason.
Massachusetts offers financial assistance through the “Get the Lead Out” program, which is administered by MassHousing.
Suffolk’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It works in partnership with local fair housing agencies to eliminate housing discrimination in Massachusetts through testing, enforcement and education. Students enrolled in Suffolk’s Accelerator to Practice program represented the family under the supervision of a Housing Discrimination Testing Program staff attorney.