For Immediate Release - April 29, 2011

AG Coakley Obtains Multiple Settlements Resolving Allegations of Housing Discrimination

BOSTON - A settlement and a consent judgment have been obtained against a real estate company and apartment owner for allegedly violating state anti-discrimination and lead paint laws, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today. The settlement and judgment require combined payments of $19,500 to the victims, the Commonwealth, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and provide a broad range of preventative measures to ensure future compliance with the law.

Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against housing applicants because they receive public housing assistance or to refuse to rent or steer families away from rental properties because they have young children whose presence triggers an owner's duty to eliminate lead hazards that pose serious health risks. The cases are the result of referrals made by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) to the Attorney General's Office.

"The need for rental or transitional housing assistance is particularly great for families facing job losses and relocation," AG Coakley said. "Landlords and real estate professionals in Massachusetts must understand that it is illegal to refuse to rent to persons receiving housing assistance or individuals with young children. Massachusetts is facing critical housing needs and compliance with the law is an important obligation as all residents must be treated fairly."

Centre Realty
A Watertown real estate company and one of its employees resolved allegations that they unfairly discriminated against a prospective tenant and her family by refusing to show them available apartments because of their lead status. This settlement was reached in partnership with Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, who conducted testing to confirm the allegations. Under the terms of the Assurance of Discontinuance, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Centre Realty Group will pay $10,000 to the prospective tenant, $1,500 to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and $1,000 to the Commonwealth. The Assurance of Discontinuance further requires Centre Realty Group and its employees to abide by federal and state fair housing and anti-discrimination laws, receive fair housing training, and notify the Civil Rights Division of any housing discrimination complaints for the next two years.

This matter was referred to the Attorney General's Office from the MCAD in January 2011.

According to the complaint and consent judgment filed in Western Division Housing Court, Mary Anna Cosentini was the owner of a four-unit residential apartment building in West Springfield. The complaint alleged 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. The consent judgment provides a broad range of relief and preventative measures to ensure future compliance with state and federal fair housing laws and requires Cosentini to pay $7,000 to the prospective tenant.

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 during that meeting, the prospective tenant informed Cosentini that she held a Section 8 housing voucher, at which point the defendant responded that she had concerns regarding the agency that provided the housing subsidy. The complaint further alleged that Cosentini told the prospective tenant over the phone that that she would prefer not to work with "another agency." The complaint alleged that Cosentini refused to negotiate with the prospective tenant and refused to rent to her.

This matter was referred to the Attorney General's Office from the MCAD in February 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.

These matters were handled by Assistant Attorneys General Maura Healey, Joanna Lydgate, and Gabrielle Viator of AG Coakley's Civil Rights Division.