HUD, landlords settle bias allegation

By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


The landlords of two North Arlington apartment buildings, who placed ads for rentals in The Observer, have agreed to pay $21,000 to resolve allegations that they violated the Fair Housing Act by denying rental opportunities to prospective African-American tenants, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced last week.

The Observer abides by Fair Housing regulations and is in no way implicated in the discrimination charges.

Named as respondents in the case were Michael Pontoriero and Mary Ann Pontoriero, owners of a 15- unit building at 44 Beech St. and a 17-unit property at 15 Morgan Place.

Earlier this year, HUD charged Michael Pontoriero with violating the Fair Housing Act by allegedly “refusing to show apartments to or return the calls of a prospective tenant after learning that he was African- American.”

According to the charging document made public by HUD, its investigation began after the complainant, whose identification was withheld, saw an advertisement in The Observer in July 2009 for a one-bedroom apartment in the Beech St. building.

“Complainant telephoned the contact number listed in the advertisement and left a voicemail message requesting to see the apartment,” HUD stated. According to HUD, Michael Pontoriero returned the call “and scheduled an appointment to view the vacant apartment at noon on July 29,” asking the prospective tenant to meet him outside the building entrance.

Prior to the appointment, the two again spoke by phone, “and each indicated that they were minutes from the building.”

HUD’s charging document states: “Complainant arrived at the agreed-upon location a few minutes before noon. Complainant waited in front of the building for 30 minutes and then placed three telephone calls to respondent . . . leaving a voicemail each time.”

Michael Pontoriero reportedly “never appeared at the scheduled appointment and failed to respond to complainant telephone calls and voicemail messages.”

Believing that he had been the victim of illegal discrimination, the applicant contacted the Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey (FHCNNJ), a nonprofit organization that receives funding from HUD to investigate claims of discrimination. Over the course of several months, FHCNNJ conducted four paired “fair housing” tests — involving advertised rentals at both of Pontoriero’s properties — using a Caucasian tester and an African-American tester in each. In the tests, the landlord reportedly “repeated the discriminatory behaviors.”

The charge alleged that the tests revealed that Pontoriero refused to show up for appointments and return calls after he learned that a tester was African American.

“Pontoriero allegedly would drive by or arrive for apartment viewing appointments early in order to discover a prospective renter’s race,” HUD stated.

“Fair housing testing” — where people of different backgrounds pose as applicants for housing — “remains our most effective tool for exposing illegal housing discrimination that still too often occurs in this country,” stated Bryan Greene, HUD’s acting assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Under the terms of the Initial Decision and Consent Order, the owners will pay $10,000 to the African- American complainant and $5,000 to FHCNNJ for damages arising out of the alleged discrimination. The Pontorieros must also pay a $6,000 civil penalty, and they and their employees must complete fair housing training and implement a non-

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