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Real Estate Law

Ballard Spahr LLP: ‘Testers’ Target Maryland Landlords for Possible Race Bias in Rentals

By Michael W. Skojec

A recent federal lawsuit brought by a Maryland equal housing advocacy group should serve as a warning to owners of apartment complexes in counties across the State of Maryland that they, too, may soon be secretly investigated for possible bias in the handling of rental inquiries.

Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., alleges in the suit that it sent teams of white and black "testers" to inquire about apartment availability at a complex in North East, Maryland. The black testers were allegedly told that only a few vacancies existed, while the white testers were told otherwise, according to the suit.

A wave of similar lawsuits against other apartment complexes may be reaching the courts soon because BNI has announced that it received a HUD grant of nearly $1 million to fund a three-year campaign of testing landlords and property managers across the State of Maryland.

Because the allegations are that testers were given different information due to their race, it is imperative that operators of apartment communities train their staffs to provide accurate information to all potential applicants on the issues of vacancies, availability, and rent amounts. It is also crucial that staff keep accurate records of all prospective applicants, including the type of housing and move-in date they were seeking and what information they were given.

Traditionally, BNI has conducted most of its activities in Baltimore City. The $975,000 HUD grant allows BNI to expand across the state. BNI press releases described the organization of a large legal team that will be representing BNI and the testers in bringing the lawsuits. Apartment communities in outlying metropolitan areas in Cecil, Carroll, and Baltimore counties are likely to be targeted.

The claims are for violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the rental of housing on the basis of race as well as other protected classifications. The HUD grant program to allow advocacy groups to test properties and bring claims has existed for some years. However, funding for the program has increased dramatically in the last few years. For 2012, HUD distributed $28 million in Fair Housing Initiatives Program grants across the United States.

Attorneys at Ballard Spahr are prepared to defend these cases and to assist apartment owners in measures to avoid such lawsuits by training staff to comply with fair housing laws. If you have any questions about fair housing and accessibility and avoiding or defending claims, please contact Michael W. Skojec, whose practice concentrates on housing discrimination matters. Mr. Skojec can be reached at 410.528.5541 or 

Copyright © 2012 by Ballard Spahr LLP.
(No claim to original U.S. government material.)

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