For Immediate Release - April 21, 2010

AG Coakley Obtains Judgment Against Fall River Landlord and Tenant for Alleged Posting of Discriminatory Housing Advertisement on Craigslist

Judgment part of statewide investigation into reports of discriminatory Internet advertising

TAUNTON - AG Coakley obtained a judgment against a Fall River landlord and his tenant for allegedly posting discriminatory rental advertisements on the popular classified advertising website Craigslist.org ("Craigslist"), as part of an ongoing statewide investigation into reports of widespread discriminatory Internet advertising.

The judgment, signed by Bristol Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane on April 16, 2010, against landlord George Cote and his tenant, Harriet Witkington, provides a broad range of relief and preventive measures to ensure future compliance with state and federal fair housing laws.

"Landlords and real estate professionals, and anyone acting on their behalf, must recognize that the rental market is a regulated industry and compliance with our anti-discrimination laws is an important obligation," said Attorney General Coakley. "While we hope that this enforcement initiative will have a deterrent effect, our office will continue to monitor Craigslist and take action against landlords and real estate professionals who violate the law."

On October 28, 2009, the Attorney General's Office reached 20 settlements and filed six complaints against landlords and real estate agents across the Commonwealth accused of violating state anti-discrimination laws on Craigslist. According to the complaint filed in Bristol Superior Court, Witkington, acting on behalf of Cote, placed an advertisement on Craigslist.org in May 2009, listing a unit for rent in Fall River but stating "no Section 8." The Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits real estate companies, agents, landlords and others involved in property rentals, from discriminating against people who use state or federal housing subsidies to pay for all or a portion of their rent.

The judgment requires Cote and Witkington to attend training on state and federal fair housing laws. The judgment also prohibits Cote and Witkington from placing discriminatory advertisements or otherwise discriminating against any person who seeks or applies for housing because they are a member of a protected class.

Recently, Attorney General Coakley's Office resolved a similar case against a Hyde Park landlord that allegedly posted discriminatory statements on Craigslist. The judgment filed against Linheart Smith provides similar relief requiring training to ensure future compliance with state and federal fair housing law, and requires him to pay a $3,000 civil penalty to the Local Consumer Aid Fund.

As an advocate for victim and consumer rights, Attorney General Coakley's office works to ensure that the civil rights and liberties of visitors and residents of the Commonwealth are preserved and protected. Under federal and state fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual or a family seeking housing because of a person's race, color, religion, sex, familial status (e.g. children or marital status), national origin, or handicap/disability. These laws also prohibit discrimination in advertising, public housing, and actions taken by realtors, landlords, mortgage lenders and brokers. Since taking office in January 2007, Attorney General Coakley's office has obtained judgments in 89 housing discrimination cases brought against landlords, property managers, and/or real estate companies.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Jeanne M. Veenstra of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights Division.

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