The US Justice Department announced that the owners of a Mississippi apartment rental company must pay damages to four Black prospective tenants, according to AP News. An investigation into the company found the owners violated the Fair Housing Act by practicing discriminatory conduct.
Steven and Sheila Maulding from SSM Properties have agreed to pay $123,000 to settle a suit filed against them by the Justice Department in 2020. The suit was filed on behalf of four Black fair housing “testers,” the report says. The Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center hired the testers to expose the company’s “dehumanizing” treatment of Black tenants.
This treatment included racial comments toward the tenants and seemingly, an effort to segregate the apartment. For example, one tester called ex-employee James Roe inquiring about an apartment. When he saw her in person, the complaint says he told her she “wasn’t what he expected” and denied the unit was available. Then, when trying to find her another unit, he just got old school racist.
“I can’t put you at Pearl Manor. Them old men’ll have a heart attack. They’ll be thinking I done let the zoo out again,” said Roe, per the complaint.
Read more about the suit from AP News:
Between November 2016 and November 2017, the organization investigated whether apartment complexes in the Jackson area were complying with federal housing law. According to the organization, the tests compared responses given by housing providers to different types of home-seekers in order to determine whether or not illegal discrimination was occurring.
The lawsuit said the Mauldings were responsible for Roe’s behavior because he was their employee. The married couple has entered into a three-year consent decree with the Justice Department that will require them to pay damages and develop practices for ensuring their apartments meet federal housing standards.
Deshun Martin, an attorney for the Mauldings, said they planned to comply with the consent decree. He also said they fired Roe when they learned of his conduct.
“The Mauldings were going through health challenges — cancer, heart issues, the loss of a brother — and they were completely unaware of what was happening at their own property with Mr. Roe and these racist acts,” Martin said. “They never condoned them.”
Sometimes, companies just don’t care to screen who they hire. Racists do what they must to get past the job interview. However, if the Mauldings were aware or even complicit in allowing an employee to treat Black prospective renters this way, the DOJ’s lawsuit sends a warning out to other rental companies.
“Because of their bravery and willingness to serve their communities as investigators, we hope that tenants in the greater Jackson area will now have greater access to more equitable housing opportunities,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, via AP.