Blatant housing discrimination is alive and well in Yuma, Arizona, according to a federal complaint filed this week by the Southwest Fair Housing Council.
The SWFHC accuses a Yuma apartment-building owner of shunning Hispanics by having a representative claim falsely that there were no rooms available, and that rent was double the advertised price.
The nonprofit, founded in 1986 and with offices in Phoenix and Tucson, helps enforce the federal Fair Housing Act with "research, advocacy, enforcement, community outreach," and investigations, according to its website.
Back in June, the complaint says, the group had a Spanish-speaking "tester" respond to a Craigslist ad for Sundown Apartments at 1939 South Second Avenue in Yuma.
"Yolanda," a rental agent for the apartment building, told the tester no units were available for rent, according to the complaint. The tester hung up but called back a few minutes later with questions about the rent and future availability.
"The agent for defendants again informed [the tester] that there were no units presently available, but that there was a waiting list, and there were no specials available," the complaint alleges.
Rent was $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,275 for a two-bedroom, the woman told the Southwest Fair Housing Council representative. A security deposit of $1,275 was required to move in, and no lease was available.
Three weeks later, when a "comparison tester" called about the same Craigslist ad, using a fake name and speaking English, it was a whole different story.
Yolanda told the caller that rent was $500 a month for a one-bedroom and $600 a month for a two-bedroom, with a security deposit of $300 or $400. Units were available right now, with the option of a one-year lease. In the advertisement, renters also receive a $99 first-month move-in special.
The building's owner is Cuon Xui Do, who lives five miles away from the apartment building in a home worth about $350,000, according to online estimates.
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"I don't know where this is coming from," says "Conrad," who claimed he was speaking for Xui Do. She had passed the phone to Conrad during a call to Sundown Apartments, saying his English was better. Conrad added that he hadn't seen the complaint but might have more comment when he does. New Times e-mailed him a copy.
Alleging violations of federal and state fair-housing law, the complaint seeks a court order to stop Xui Do and Sundown from denying "individuals of Hispanic origin meaningful access to and full and equal enjoyment of defendants’ rental properties."
Beyond that, the SWFHC wants an award of compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorneys' fees.
The SWFHC referred a call to the group's Tucson lawyer, Paul Gattone, who didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.