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No Blacks allowed: Miami apartment sued for discrimination

Erick Johnson | 5/29/2014, 9 a.m.
When Lakeisha Wright inquired about a unit at Elite Riverview Apartments in Miami, she was told that there were none ...
HOPE Fair Housing filed a discrimination suit against Elite Riverview Apartments claiming Blacks were treated unfairly and denied tours to view units.

When Lakeisha Wright inquired about a unit at Elite Riverview Apartments in Miami, she was told that there were none available. With video and audio surveillance cameras rolling, she knocked several times on the manager’s office door without receiving a response until she called.

Less than two hours later, Laura Morales, a Latino applicant was politely greeted in the parking lot and not only was told that there was an apartment available, but was shown a penthouse unit. She was told the monthly rent would be $1,325. After saying she couldn’t afford that amount, the manager told her he would try to lower the price with the approval of his supervisor.

Those are some of the details of a new discrimination lawsuit filed by Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence (HOPE) and three Blacks against Elite Riverview Apartments, a nine-story, peach-colored 70 unit complex near the Miami River at 1750 NW 27th Avenue. The complaint, filed last week in the United States Southern District of Florida, alleges the complex discriminated against three Black applicants.

The plaintiffs are represented by Randall Berg Jr. and Dante Trevisani, civil rights attorneys at the Florida Justice Institute in Miami.

PUNITIVE AND COMPENSATORY DAMAGES

In the suit, HOPE alleged Elite committed civil rights violations of the Fair Housing Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. In addition to attorney and court fees, the suit is asking that Elite pay punitive and compensatory damages to HOPE and Black plaintiffs. HOPE is also asking the federal courts to issue an injunction to end Elite’s alleged discriminatory practices. The non-profit organization is also demanding the case be tried by a jury, according to the suit.

“It was proven that discrimination was used to discourage Blacks from renting these units,” said Keenya Robertson, president and chief executive officer for HOPE. “This just shows that discrimination is still alive and well today.”

Founded in 1988, HOPE conducts routine testing known as audit checks to detect housing discrimination in Miami-Dade and Broward. Its programs are designed to eliminate discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, and sex. There are two other HOPE agencies in Florida. Since its inception, it has achieved settlement funds for victims of housing discrimination cases in excess of $8.5 million.

In 2013, an apartment owner paid an undisclosed amount as part of a settlement after HOPE filed a similar lawsuit alleging racial discrimination against Black applicants at a complex near Little Haiti.

FAILED AUDIT CHECKS

In this latest case, HOPE filed the lawsuit after Elite failed its audit checks, which began on February 28. On that date, Zipporah Hayes, a Black female tester inquired about a two-bed room apartment before being told there were none available by a manager, Roberto “Doe”. Hayes was told to call back around March 15 to see if any units would be available, according to the lawsuit.

It would be a different story nearly three hours later. That’s when Alexandra Del Rosario, a Latino tester for HOPE, was shown a $1,325 a-month apartment by Roberto “Doe”. She was allowed through the property gates, where she met “Doe”. Ms. Del Rosario asked when she would be able to move in if approved, and “Doe” told her that she could move in anytime, and if she wanted the apartment in move-in condition, it could be ready around March 10th.