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'Disturbing' discrimination trends emerge against Richmond renters

Posted at 7:26 AM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 07:31:29-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Disturbing and illegal. That’s how some fair housing advocates described a recent trend they’ve seen applied to families seeking housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heather Crislip, the President and CEO of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (H.O.M.E.), said her organization has seen a significant uptick in what they called brazen discrimination against households with children.

“Recently we’ve been getting intakes with landlords saying they will not take children and that is a really blatant violation of the Fair Housing Act,” she said. “I can only speculate that it does have to do with kids being home more and landlords wanting to limit the number of people who are actively in a household at any given time. But they need to know that it is still illegal.”

She said H.O.M.E. has also investigated discrimination complaints from tenants with disabilities.

“Not being willing to accept disability income as a method of paying for rent. That is also a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act,” Crislip added.

One alleged discrimination case was uncovered through testing that H.O.M.E. conducted after a tip came in from a family who wanted to rent a unit from a Richmond landlord.

That case led H.O.M.E. to file a federal housing discrimination lawsuit that claimed the landlord made discriminatory statements against people with disabilities and families with children.

“There were discriminatory statements made, along the lines of, ‘I’d rather have a Great Dane than a three-year-old living as a tenant.’ We’ve had intakes recently, explicitly saying they would not rent to children or to households with children of a certain age. We were interested in bringing this case forward and bringing attention to it because we see a lot of it going in the market place,” Crislip said.

She hopes the lawsuit sends a clear message to all landlords about the importance of adhering to the Fair Housing Act.

“My purpose now is to try to get as much attention that this is definitely a trend going on in the region. It’s not one we anticipated. We want to make sure families with children have this kind of discrimination removed as a barrier as they look to seek housing at a moment when housing is so important,” Crislip said.

In the federal lawsuit, H.O.M.E. is also seeking damages in the amount that the investigation cost the agency to uncover the alleged discrimination.

CBS 6 News reached out a few times to the landlord at the center of the lawsuit, but haven’t heard back.

Crislip encouraged consumers to contact H.O.M.E. if they feel like they have been a victim of housing discrimination. H.O.M.E can be reached at 804-354-0641.