Micronesian tenants need legal advice
Question: I'm trying to help some friends who might be experiencing housing discrimination. They live in a 12-unit apartment building and received letters saying they had to move because their apartments were being refurbished pending a possible sale. It appeared as if all the building's residents were being asked to move, but it turns out that only the five Micronesian families were told to go. Is this illegal housing discrimination? If it is, what can they do?
Answer: According to Cynthia Thomas, Legal Aid's Fair Housing Project manager: Fair housing laws make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race and national origin or ancestry. It is illegal to treat tenants differently because of their race or national origin. Sometimes, housing providers give false reasons for their actions. This is called "pretext." Pretext is often used to hide or cover discrimination. For example, a landlord might say that a tenant must move out because of renovations, but the real reason is that the landlord does not want to rent to Micronesians anymore. On the other hand, there might be an innocent explanation for only asking Micronesian families to move out. It could be that the only five units in need of restoration coincidentally belong to Micronesians tenants. But based on the facts you provided, that sounds like a tough sell. This could involve illegal housing discrimination. The affected families, or anyone in a similar situation, should contact Legal Aid's Fair Housing Hotline at (808) 527-8024 for more information about their rights.
Q: I have a question I'm too embarrassed to write or call about. Where can I go online?
A: Visit legalaidhawaii.org and click on "Online Client Resources." We also have "self-help" Centers for Equal Justice in Honolulu and Lihue, Kauai. The Honolulu CEJ, at 924 Bethel St., is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 1-4 p.m. The Kauai CEJ, at 4334 Rice St., Suite 204-A, is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 1-4 p.m.
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii operates statewide. Practice areas include housing, public benefits, consumer and family law but not criminal law. For information, call 536-4302. Submit questions by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
or by U.S. mail to Legal Aid Q&A, 924 Bethel St., Honolulu, HI 96813.