For Immediate Release - July 31, 2009

Attorney General Martha Coakley Files Suit Against Somerville Property Owners in Housing Discrimination Case

WOBURN - Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office filed a housing discrimination complaint against two Somerville property owners for allegedly refusing to rent an apartment to a prospective tenant and his family on the basis of their race and national origin. The complaint, filed in Middlesex Superior Court on July 29, 2009, alleges that Jardelina and Olivero Costa of Somerville violated state anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws by refusing to rent to a prospective tenant and his family because they are of Indian national origin.

"The Commonwealth's anti-discrimination law prohibits landlords and realtors from asking prospective tenants about their national origin, or from recording national origin information on applications and otherwise discriminating against them based on race," said Attorney General Coakley. "Real estate professionals must adhere to these provisions to provide the residents of the Commonwealth with the fair and equal treatment that they deserve."

The complaint alleges that in September 2008, the prospective tenant and his cousin inquired at a local real estate company about a Somerville apartment, owned by the Costas, advertised for rent on the Internet. After viewing the apartment with the real estate agent, the prospective tenant returned to the real estate office to provide the deposit required by the owners to secure the rental property. The complaint alleges that at this time the real estate agent relayed a conversation she had with the Costas, in which they told the agent that they did not want to rent to the family because they were of Indian national origin and "their food stinks." According to the complaint, the apartment was very desirable to the victims because it was close to public transportation and child care. As a result of the defendants' alleged refusal to rent the apartment, the victims incurred motel expenses while they continued to search for another place to live.

In April 2009, in response to the victims' complaint, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) found probable cause that discrimination had occurred based on the prospective tenants' national origin. The Attorney General's Office is seeking injunctive relief and damages for the victims pursuant to the owners' alleged violation of the Commonwealth's Anti-Discrimination Act.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Alan Jay Rom, of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights Division.