A Twin Cities property manager refused to rent to Hmong family members, trying to charge them for translation expenses and pointing to language limitations for rejecting them as tenants, according to allegations filed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Page Edmunds and his business, Renter's Avenue, located in Champlin, "made discriminatory statements to them because of their national origin, and retaliated against them for exercising their fair housing rights," HUD said in announcing the allegations Wednesday.
"Refusing to lease a home to a family or imposing additional fees because of their national origin violates the Fair Housing Act," Gustavo Velasquez, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a statement announcing the charge. "Our charge reaffirms HUD's commitment to taking action against housing providers that discriminate against individuals or families because they have limited English proficiency."
HUD has declined to identify the family members, releasing the charging document with their names redacted.
According to HUD:
The family, which consists of the mother, her adult son, his 15-year-old half-sister and his 8-year-old daughter, filed a complaint after they tried to rent a three-bedroom townhouse in March 2014 in Champlin that Edmunds owns. The family viewed the home, renting for $999 a month, and paid an $80 application fee.
Soon after came an e-mail exchange spread over 10 days that included Edmunds asking family members to provide their own credit information from a free online credit reporting service.
In one e-mail to the adult son, Edmunds asked: "Are you willing to pay $500 for the translation? … I'm not required to enter into a legal contract with a party that may later claim they didn't understand it."
A later e-mail to the son from Edmunds read: "During your visit to the address, you prompted your mom to say something to me. She appears to know some simple phrases, but understanding lease legal terms is very unlikely."
After the family members met all requirements for rental, Edmunds told them they would have to pay $500 to have the lease translated and then denied their application, saying: "I regret that the rental application has been denied. Both adults would have to sign the contract. [Your mother] appears to have limited English skills. … [T]he contract must be translated to her native language. If not, she could easily break the lease. Such translations are very costly."
When the son suggested that Edmunds' denial was discriminatory, Edmunds threatened to report the son, who holds a real estate license, to the Minnesota department that governs real estate licensing.
Edmunds, who manages about 100 properties, said in an e-mail response Thursday morning, that the family was declined "for reasons other than language issues."
He noted that he had received legal counsel in an earlier matter that "if language proficiency is in doubt, contracts must be translated. Translators charge by the word. Leases are about 10 pages long, and complex. If you shop around, you'll find that cost would be about $50 page."
HUD's charge will be heard by a U.S. administrative law judge unless any party in the case seeks to have it moved to federal court.