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Tenant complaints and fair housing laws.

In July 1989, a federal district court ruled that the owners of an Alexandria, Virginia, apartment complex violated civil rights laws when they sought to evict a black tenant after she complained of racial harassment. The decision expands fair housing protections and requires owners and managers to carefully monitor tenants' complaints. A failure to do so may result in substantial financial liability.

The facts

Felicia Bradley had been a tenant in the Holly Court Apartments in Alexandria since 1976. Holly Court Apartments is owned, operated, and managed by a group of businesses under the umbrella of Carydale Enterprises ("Carydale"). Bradley is black. In June 1985, Deborah Gill and Kevin Turner, both of whom are white, leased the apartment directly below Bradley's apartment. At times, Bradley played music on her stereo at a volume that disturbed Gill and other tenants in the complex. Gill complained to the resident manager, who told her to put the complaint in writing.

During a visit to her apartment, Bradley mentioned to her cousin that GM walked her dog without a leash. Upon overhearing this remark, Gill called Bradley and her cousin "niggers' Bradley complained to the resident manager, who told her to put her complaint in writing.

In her letter to the resident manager, Bradley complained about the unleashed dog and about belligerent name calling." The resident manager spoke to Gill about the unleashed dog. Shortly thereafter, Bradley wrote two more letters to the resident manager. The first complained about an oral confrontation between Gill and Bradley, and the second complained about name calling.

The property manager offered to move Turner and Gill to a two-bedroom apartment or to let Turner and Gill out of their lease without any penalty. Gill said that she did not have the money to make the move. The building management did not ask Bradley to move, nor did she consider moving.

Incidents of racial name calling continued. Gill verbally abused Bradley or her friends on three more occasions. During at least one of these incidents Gill had to be physically restrained.

After falling to pay rent and gas bills, Turner and Gill left the complex in june 1986.

On May 22, 1986, Carydale served a 30-day notice for Bradley to vacate the premises. No explanation for serving notice was given to her, even though sometimes Carydale would serve a 21to-30-day notice. At trial, the property manager testified that Bradley's loud music and her attempt to move a couch into her apartment through a third-floor balcony were factors influencing the decision.

Bradley filed discrimination complaints against Carydale with the NAACP, the Fairfax County Department of Consumer Affairs, the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission, the Virginia Department of Commerce, and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carydale then halted its eviction action.

While the discrimination complaints were still pending before the Human Rights Commission and the Virginia Real Estate Board (through the Virginia Department of Commerce), Carydale served a second notice for Bradley to vacate. The owners of the apartment complex were hoping that, as a result of the second notice, the Commission would dismiss the case. The notice to vacate was served even though Carydale did not have any problems with Bradley from june through October.

In May 1988, a public hearing was held by the Commission after which the Commission issued a letter to one of the building owners, reporting that there was probable cause to believe that Carydale violated the Fairfax County Human Rights Ordinance. The Commission referred the matter to the County Attorney's Office for enforcement. However, the County Board of Supervisors declined to act without giving any reason for the decision.

While Carydale failed to adopt certain compliance measures to prevent racial discrimination at the time of the incidents in question, it did have a policy to resolve tenant disputes.

Legal theories

Bradley filed suit in federal district court against Carydale Enterprises and its allied businesses, the individual legal owners of the apartment complex, the property manager, and the resident manager. A motion was filed by Carydale to dismiss the case on the grounds that the action was merely a dispute between tenants. This motion was denied.

As part of her complaint, Bradley maintained that Carydale violated rights guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981) and the Civil Rights Act of 1870 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1982) by refusing to enforce a provision of her lease which bars tenants from engaging in objectionable conduct," by failing to investigate and resolve her racial harassment complaints in the same way as it resolved other complaints by tenants, and by retaliating against her for filing discrimination complaints by serving the second eviction notice.

The court analyzed the facts in light of the two potential violations of Section 1981 and Section 1982: the discrimination investigation and resolution of complaints ("the discrimination claim') and the retaliatory eviction.

Section 1981 provides that all persons ... shall have the same right ... to make and enforce contracts ... as is enjoyed by white citizens. . Section 1982 provides that all persons ... shall have the same right ... as is enjoyed by white citizens ... to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property."

Because of the Supreme Court decision in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union (U.S., June 15, 1989), which held that racial harassment relating to conditions of employment is not actionable under Section 1981 when conduct occurs after the formation of the contract, the district court held that Patterson prohibited the use of Section 1981 to Bradley's discrimination claim. The district court judge explained that Bradley's claim relates to the conditions of her tenancy and not to the making of her lease. The retaliatory eviction claim under Section 1981, however, was allowed because that claim goes to Bradley's right to enforce her lease obligations through the legal process, a right still protected by Section 1981.


The same framework that governs employment discrimination actions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also governs Section 1981 and 1982 disparate treatment claims. A disparate treatment claim exists when someone is treated less favorably because of their race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Proof of a discriminatory motive is crucial to the case.

A different burden of proof is used depending on the given factual situation. Bradley's discrimination claim was analyzed as a pretext case. In a pretext case, the plaintiff must show sufficient evidence that cannot be overthrown. Bradley was required to show:

* she is a member of a racial minority,

* she was denied rights and benefits which are connected with the leasing of property, and

* the same services and rights were enforced when racial allegations were not involved. Bradley's retaliatory eviction claim was analyzed as a mixed motive case because Bradley provided direct evidence of retaliation. In a mixed motive case (as recently modified by the Supreme Court in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 1989), if a plaintiff demonstrates that it is more likely than not that a forbidden characteristic played a part in the decision, the defendant must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it also made its decision based on some legitimate nondiscriminatory criterion.

Carydale's nondiscriminatory reason for issuing the second notice was not persuasive in light of testimony that Bradley had not engaged in the type of activity between june and October which would ordinarily cause the issuance of such a notice. Therefore, the court held that the Carydale defendants with the exception of the resident manager and property manager, who were not involved in the retaliation efforts, violated Sections 1981 and 1982 and were liable for 9,000 in damages.

The same group, again minus the resident manager and the property manager, was held liable under the Virginia Fair Housing Law and the Fairfax Housing Ordinance.


The decision of the federal district court was unsatisfactory to both sides. The Carydale defendants denied Bradley's claim of discrimination and appealed the judgment. Bradley disputed the findings that the property manager and resident manager were not liable. Nevertheless, the parties entered into a court-approved consent order on October 16, 1989. This effectively concluded the matter without further litigation. Carydale agreed to pay Bradley $120,000 and to dismiss its appeal. In addition, Carydale agreed to institute a program ensuring its compliance with state and federal fair housing laws, which among other things required fair housing training for all its property managers and residential managers. Carydale also agreed to maintain files reflecting the race of each tenant and eviction records for a period of three years. The court retained jurisdiction over the action for three years to ensure that Carydale complies with the order. Conclusion Bradley v. Carydale Enterprises serves as an important example to real estate managers. We all know that we should engage in fair housing practices. To feel that we are meeting our obligations is never enough, especially at a time when laws constantly change through legislation and court decisions.

Today, the executive-level manager must monitor his or her staff to ensure that all employees are treating tenants fairly throughout the entire term of the lease. And when problems occur and complaints are made, they must be investigated and documented accurately.

Developing the policies may not be enough. Once policies are developed and programs implemented, they must be monitored on a consistent basis.

Several property management policy questions are raised by Bradley v. Carydale Enterprises. The questions involve the ongoing relationship among owner, management, and tenant.

* What should the management do when it receives a complaint from one tenant about another tenant?

* What types of action trigger the issuance of different types of notices to offending tenants?

* Are all offending tenants treated consistently?

* Are resident managers trained to deal with complaints between tenants?

* Does the staff tend to procrastinate or ignore complaints made by tenants?

* Are accurate written records of problems which may result in tenant eviction maintained?

* Is special training dealing with the highly charged and sensitive problems of housing discrimination being offered to employees?

* Is a policy in place on how to handle tenants after formal charges of discrimination are made?

Sound management practices will help the owner and manager avoid many of these problems. Bradley v. Carydale Enterprises is a case which stresses management. To manage, as defined in Webster's, means "to handle or direct with a degree of skill" or to "treat with care." For many years, real estate professionals have been responsible for handling the implementation of fair housing and other civil rights laws with skill and care. Bradley v. Carydale Enterprises recognizes this responsibility and enforces it.
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Title Annotation:Legal Corner
Author:Golden, Dale
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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