The Santa Monica city attorney has reached a settlement with two local landlords accused of refusing to rent an apartment to a woman because she had a child living with her.
May and Alan Wong, owners of an apartment building in the 1000 block of 19th Street in Santa Monica agreed to the $1,000 settlement after a city attorney investigation confirmed the allegations of Donna Thomas, who attempted to rent a one-bedroom apartment from the Wongs.
Thomas, a single mother, alleges that she saw a listing for the apartment on the Internet and called owner May Wong to set up an appointment to see the unit.
During that phone call, Wong asked Thomas how many people would be living in the apartment and Thomas said two — herself and her seven-year-old daughter — the city attorney alleges.
Wong allegedly told Thomas that the one-bedroom unit would not accommodate two people and hung up, city attorney’s officials say.
Feeling as though she had been shut down from renting the apartment because her daughter would be staying with her, Thomas had a friend call May Wong and express interest in a one-bedroom apartment rental for himself and his child, who would be living with him for half the year.
Wong allegedly hesitated and Thomas’s friend allegedly told Wong that he would arrange for the child’s mother to take the child for a year.
Wong allegedly encouraged the idea.
Shortly thereafter, the friend called Wong back and said that his child would have to stay with him in the apartment for half the year.
Wong promised to call back but never did, the city attorney’s office says.
Thomas filed a housing discrimination complaint with the Santa Monica city attorney.
The city attorney investigated the complaint, including the use of two undercover “testers” from the Los Angeles Housing Rights Center and a survey of the Wongs’ existing tenants.
The investigation confirmed that the Wongs strictly limited one-bedroom units to single occupants, the city attorney’s Office alleges.
“Limiting one-bedroom units to single occupants is discriminatory and illegal,” said city deputy city attorney Eda Suh.
“Federal, state and local laws prohibit discrimination against families with children.
“Limits on the number of occupants in the rental unit raise discrimination problems if the effect is to ban occupancy by families with children,” said Suh.
Rather than face litigation, the Wongs recently agreed to settle the matter with the City of Santa Monica under the following terms:
n The Wongs would pay $500 to Thomas;
n The Wongs would pay $500 to the City of Santa Monica for investigation costs;
n The Wongs will attend a management training course certified by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles; and
n The Wongs will abide by a two-year moratorium against future discrimination or face double the penalties.
“Many people don’t know that it’s illegal to impose this kind of occupancy limit,” said Suh.
“We encourage building owners to protect themselves by learning about the law,” Suh added.