For Immediate Release - November 05, 2009

Attorney General Martha Coakley Obtains Consent Judgment Against Everett Landlord for Discriminating And Retaliating Against Family with a Young Child to Avoid Lead Paint Obligations

WOBURN - Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office has obtained a consent judgment in a housing discrimination case against Sheryl Budd, the owner of a three-unit building located in Everett, who is accused of violating state anti-discrimination laws for refusing to de-lead an apartment after learning that a long-time tenant was pregnant. The Commonwealth alleged that Budd attempted to avoid the costs associated with her legal obligation to abate the lead hazards in the apartment and that she later retaliated against the tenants by threatening to increase their rent by 50 percent after they complained to the Everett Board of Health.

The judgment, entered on November 4, 2009, by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Herman J. Smith Jr., requires Budd to pay the victim $10,000 and prohibits her from discriminating against any person because they have a child, whose presence would trigger her obligations under the lead paint laws, or otherwise discriminate against any person in violation of state and federal fair housing laws.

"Property owners need to recognize that de-leading is a cost of doing business as a landlord in Massachusetts and that our lead paint and antidiscrimination laws contribute to the health and safety of the community," said Attorney General Coakley. "Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they have children or because the presence of children might trigger a property owner's duties under the lead paint laws. Moreover, landlords cannot retaliate against tenants who try to enforce their rights under the law. We will continue to vigorously enforce these important laws."

The judgment resolves the complaint, filed in July 2006, amended in May 2009, alleging that Budd discriminated against the tenants by refusing to remove lead-based hazards after being informed that a tenant was pregnant. According to the complaint, the tenants notified Budd several months advance that they were having their first child and were worried about possible lead hazards, but Budd refused to do an inspection or remove any lead hazards before or after the child was born. The tenants then complained to the Everett Board of Health, who ordered Budd to comply with the lead paint laws. After receiving the order, Budd allegedly called the tenants and yelled at them and threatened to increase their rent. Days later, she sent them a letter with a 50 percent rent increase as retaliation for reporting her to the city. The rent increase was directed only at the tenants who complained.

Budd failed to abate the lead until one year after first being informed of the impending birth, and only after being ordered to do so by the Board. The tenants were forced to live in fear that their child would get lead poisoning and had to dramatically alter their lives to avoid harm to their child.

The judgment also requires Budd to attend training on state and federal fair housing and antidiscrimination laws if she acts as a landlord in the next five years, to advertise any future rental property as "Equal Housing Opportunity" properties, to maintain a record of rental applicants submitted by prospective tenants, and to report all discrimination complaints to the Attorney General's Office.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Adam Hollingsworth of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights Division, with the assistance of Ashley Cinelli of the Victim Witness Services Division.