For the second time in less than a year, a fair-housing advocacy organization has filed suit in U.S. District Court claiming racial discrimination by a company that owns 24 apartment complexes in the Baltimore region.
Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. is suing the national company Home Properties, claiming that in December and March, agents at Fox Hall Apartments in Nottingham showed more apartments and offered a lower price to white than black "testers" sent to check rental practices at the eastern Baltimore County complex.
The suit, filed last week in Baltimore, claims the renting agents at the 720-unit complex offered "eight to approximately ten current or upcoming vacancies" to the whites, and only one to the African-American testers. The agent also quoted a rent to the black tester "higher than that offered to the white testers," the suit claims, adding that the agents "intentionally" gave "false information."
The difference in treatment of the whites and blacks was meant to "discourage African-Americans from living at Fox Hall Apartments," the organization alleges, claiming Home Properties violated both state and federal fair housing laws.
The suit asks the court to declare that Home Properties broke federal and state housing laws, to stop the company from discriminating, and to award compensatory and punitive damages. No damage figure is mentioned in the suit.
In November, the nonprofit organization filed a similar federal suit against Home Properties, claiming discrimination at the Middlebrooke Apartments and Town Homes complex in Westminster, Carroll County. That case is scheduled for mediation in September in hopes of resolving the dispute and avoiding a trial, said C. Christopher Brown, the lawyer representing Baltimore Neighborhoods in that case.
He said the items being discussed in mediation include financial damages and an agreement that the company establish new fair-housing training programs for employees.
Charis Warshof, vice president for investor relations at Home Properties' office in Rochester, N.Y., said she had not yet seen the Fox Hall lawsuit. She said the company takes fair housing seriously.
"In general it is our policy and practice to fully comply with all fair-housing requirements," Warshof said. "We have very rigorous training programs for employees" to ensure the law is followed, she said.
Home Properties owns and manages 24 apartment complexes in the Baltimore region, including Bonnie Ridge, Dunfield Townhomes and Falcon Crest in Baltimore County. The company has properties in nine states from Illinois to Maine, but most are concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic region, Warshof said.
The test visits at Fox Hall were conducted as part of the work of at Baltimore Neighborhoods, established in 1959 to promote "equal housing opportunities for all people in the Baltimore metropolitan area," the lawsuit says.
Along with performing such tests, the organization also offers counseling and referrals, and investigates claims of housing discrimination.
Representatives of the nonprofit were not available Thursday to comment on the Fox Hall case. In November, executive director Elijah Etheridge said it had been about 10 years since BNI had filed a housing discrimination suit.
Brown said Thursday that racial discrimination in housing in this area has become largely a function of location.
"In Baltimore City, there's very limited racial discrimination in housing," said Brown. "The record is somewhat different the farther out you go" from the city center. Closest to the city, he said, housing discrimination has been harder and harder to find.
"Somebody's doing something right," Brown said.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted from Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. lawsuit against Home Properties. The suit says the difference treatment of blacks and whites was meant to "discourage African-Americans," not "American-Americans." The Sun regrets the error.