Lawsuit alleges apartment discriminated against families

A 2006 Craigslist ad discouraging families with children from applying for a Daly City apartment has led to a lawsuit filed last month by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in San Mateo Superior Court.

The suit accuses property owner Yul Hermes, property manager San Fini and Fini’s employer, Coldwell Banker Peninsula, of housing discrimination and seeks unlimited damages.

DFEH attorneys claim that on March 6, 2006, Fini posted a Craigslist ad for a two-bedroom apartment at 95 Hill Street stating, “This unit is good for two single persons or a married couple with no kids.”

After an anonymous tip on March 8, a hired tester at Project Sentinel, a fair housing nonprofit organization, sent Fini an e-mail identifying herself as a single mother of two, according to the lawsuit. Fini allegedly responded telling her the owner only expects two people for the unit but he would ask him anyway. Fini never again replied, according to the suit. A second tester, who also said she had two young children, telephoned Fini who allegedly told her “the owner only wants two people” after asking her the ages of her children.

On March 14, the discriminatory ad was re-posted, however Fini told a tester who claimed to have one child there was no condition on children when she telephoned him, according to the suit.

Reached by telephone, Fini said he has had prior problems with Project Sentinel’s staff, which he believes unfairly targeted him because he is a minority and because he refused to purchase their training courses. The Craigslist ad was a misunderstanding between him and his assistant, who posted the ad, and was quickly changed when the error was discovered, he said.

Evan White, fair housing coordinator for Project Sentinel, said his organization filed a previous complaint against Fini alleging he and a residential hotel owner in South San Francisco threatened a mentally disabled man with being placed in an institution if he didn’t move out so they could sell the property. The man passed away before a state commissioner ruled in his favor Jan. 4, he said.

Bill Branch, spokesman for the DFEH, said that discrimination against families with children is the third most common complaint, behind discrimination against those with disabilities and racial discrimination.

In fiscal year 2006-07, the DFEH received 222 complaints of discrimination against families with children statewide — 15.5 percent of the agency’s total housing discrimination complaints.

tbarak@examiner.com

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