For Immediate Release - April 13, 2010

Attorney General Martha Coakley Sues West Springfield Landlord for Housing Discrimination

SPRINGFIELD - The owner of a four-unit residential apartment building in West Springfield has been sued for violating state anti-discrimination laws, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office announced. The Attorney General's Office filed a complaint against Mary Anna Cosentini in Western Division Housing Court alleging that she refused to rent to a prospective tenant and her family because the woman participates in the Section 8 housing subsidy program administered through a local agency.

"In the current economy, the need for rental or transitional housing assistance is particularly great and these programs are important as families are facing job losses and critical housing needs" said Attorney General Coakley. "Landlords in Massachusetts must understand that it is illegal to refuse to rent to a person holding a Scection 8 voucher or to refuse to do business with an agency administering housing vouchers."

According to the complaint, in September 2007, the prospective tenant met with Cosentini after responding to an advertisement for a three-bedroom apartment in West Springfield. The complaint further alleges that while meeting, the prospective tenant informed Cosentini that she held a Section 8 housing voucher, at which time the defendant responded that she had concerns regarding the agency that provided the housing subsidy. The complaint further alleges that Cosentini told the prospective tenant over the phone that that she would prefer not to work with "another agency." The complaint alleges that Cosentini refused to negotiate with the prospective tenant and refused to rent to her.

Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against housing applicants because they receive public housing assistance. The law also forbids refusing to negotiate or rent to a person because of the requirements of a public assistance program. The Attorney General's Office is seeking an order prohibiting Cosentini from engaging in housing discrimination and an award of damages, attorneys' fees and costs.

This matter was referred to the Attorney General's Office from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in February 2010. The complaint was filed on April 9, 2010.

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 88 housing discrimination cases brought against landlords, property managers, and/or real estate companies.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Laurie A. Frankl of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights and Western Massachusetts Divisions.