Landlords pay $9,500 in bias suit
The Chees allegedly discriminated based on marital status
Honolulu rental property owners paid a $9,500 settlement this week over allegations that they discriminated on the basis of marital status when showing their four-bedroom Manoa home.
Lindsey Bracken, 25, a third-grade teacher at Kalihi Waena Elementary School, was looking for a house in January for her and three roommates: Drew Stovall, 26, Kevin Dalit, 21, and Moses Tay, 26. When she and Stovall went to view the Manoa home, she said property owners Benjamin and Florence Chee asked if the two were married. When Bracken said "no," she recalled Benjamin Chee showed immediate disapproval.
"He said he didn't know if he could do this, and would have to talk to his lawyer," Bracken said. "At first, I thought he was joking."
Several days later, Bracken called Florence Chee to follow up on the rental and was told that she should not fill out the application because she was not married. Bracken then called the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii for help.
"(Lindsey) had a sense of what happened was illegal," said Cynthia Thomas, attorney for Legal Aid. "She's being discriminated based on something she has no control over."
To gather more evidence on Bracken's claim, Legal Aid coordinated an investigation by using two "testers," or trained volunteers, who posed as potential tenants and recorded the entire conversation with the Chees.
Legal Aid claims the Chees showed their preference for married couples in this rental showing, as well.
"Discrimination is really hard to prove, but when you have evidence ... it's a lot more difficult to deny it," Thomas said.
Three of the four roommates filed separate complaints with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. The roommates alleged that the Chees illegally discriminated against them on the basis of marital status, gender, age and familial status based on questions in the rental application and statements made in connection with rental appointment regarding marital status.
Hawaii state fair housing laws make it illegal for landlords to choose tenants based on their marital status, age, gender, race, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation or familial status.
In a written statement yesterday, the Chees said they want to receive training on housing discrimination laws but that they feel the claims against them were not justified. They deny ever showing disapproval or discriminating against Bracken based on her marital status. Florence Chee denies discouraging Bracken from turning in an application, and said she even gave Bracken and her three roommates applications to submit.
Since they were not informed about when the recording took place, the Chees feel it is unfair and could be interpreted in many different ways. They settled on $9,500 because they wanted to avoid the stress that the claims were having on Benjamin Chee's health.
After looking at 23 different rentals, Bracken and her roommates found a place in Hawaii Kai.
"It took forever but we found something," Bracken said.
HELP IN HOUSING DISCRIMINATION
The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii assists victims of illegal housing discrimination through its Fair Housing Enforcement Program. For more information, visit www.legalaidhawaii.org or call the fair housing hot line at 527-8024.