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Fair Housing Center of Washington v. Breier-Scheetz Properties, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 5, 2017

FAIR HOUSING CENTER OF WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BREIER-SCHEETZ PROPERTIES, LLC, a Washington corporation; and FREDERICK BRIER-SCHEETZ, an individual, Defendants.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          THOMAS S. ZILLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter came before the Court on September 18, 2017 on a bench trial limited to the issue of damages. The Court, being fully advised, now enters its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. Plaintiff Fair Housing Center of Washington (“FHCW”) is a non-profit fair housing organization incorporated under the laws of the State of Washington, located in Tacoma, Washington. FHCW's mission is to identify and eliminate discriminatory housing practices and to ensure equal housing is available to all people, without regard to race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status. FHCW provides various programs and services designed to eliminate housing discrimination through counseling, education, advocacy, research, and enforcing fair housing laws.

         2. In pursuit of its mission, FHCW provides fair housing testing services. Since 1995, the agency's pool of trained testers has conducted approximately 3, 000 rental, sales, and mortgage lending tests in Western and Central Washington. During tests, trained individuals pose as prospective tenants or purchasers to gather information about whether a housing provider is complying with fair housing laws. A pair of testers typically conducts the test: one poses as a member of the protected class, the other represents the control group.

         3. Defendant Breier-Scheetz Properties is incorporated in Washington and does business in the Western District of Washington. Breier-Scheetz Properties owns and manages multifamily residential properties, and owned and operated the Granada Apartments at 1736 Belmont Avenue in Seattle, Washington (the “Granada”) at all times relevant to this litigation.

         4. Defendant Frederick Breier-Scheetz is an owner of Defendant Breier-Scheetz Properties (collectively, “Defendants”), is a property manager at the Granada, and oversees all of Breier-Scheetz Properties' property managers.

         5. The Granada is a 96-unit apartment building. It comprises 60 studio apartments that are at least 400 square feet, plus six larger studios. None of the studios has a designated parking space.

         6. Defendants allow only one person to rent the Granada's studio apartments. Defendant Frederick Breier-Scheetz developed this restriction over time since the late 1970s.

         7. At all times relevant to this litigation, Defendants controlled and directed the actions of their property managers and employees, including Gary and Joanne Huth, and managed and operated the Granada.

         8. In 2012 and 2013, FHCW performed pair fair housing tests during which Gary and Joanne Huth informed the testers that the Granada enforced a one-person-per-studio policy.

         9. FHCW filed a complaint dated March 4, 2014, against Defendants with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). The complaint alleged that the Defendants improperly denied housing or made housing unavailable based on familial status. Through a work-sharing agreement, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) investigated the complaint.

         10. This Court granted FHCW's motion for summary judgment on liability, docket no. 42, ruling: “Defendants' one-person-per studio occupancy restriction at the Granada has a disparate impact on families with children in violation of the Fair Housing Act, Washington Law Against Discrimination, and Seattle Municipal Code.”

         11. FHCW charges $700 for fair housing tests. FHCW charges $700 for fair housing training sessions. Each quarter, FHCW's staff spend five hours, at $100 per hour, monitoring prospective tenant inquiries. Distributing print and video public service advertisements about fair housing and familial status protection in the Seattle area, via a contractor called the Causeway Agency, costs a total of $4, 535. FHCW's ...


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