Trailer park charged with discrimination

Published 10:31 am Thursday, August 23, 2012

The owners and manager of the Rainbow Terrace mobile home park, 1714 Margaretha Ave., are facing federal charges of discrimination. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

ALBERT LEA — The owners and manager of the Rainbow Terrace mobile home park in Albert Lea were charged this week with discriminating against a Hispanic couple who tried to lease a park lot.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is alleging the owners and manager violated the Fair Housing Act in 2009 by making racial statements and slurs about the couple trying to lease.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing transactions based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status or disability.

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The federal charge lists Mary Ann Jensen as the on-site property manager and Timothy J. Johnston and Lauri Johnston Richert as the owners.

The federal document alleges that when the wife, a Mexican-American, and her sister inquired about a park lot, Jensen asked about the nationality of the wife’s husband, who could be seen sitting in a pickup nearby. When the wife affirmed her husband was from Mexico, Jensen allegedly stated she did “not want any more Mexicans” living at the park because they were “too much trouble,” according to the documents. The manager reportedly told the wife that her husband was “no good” and referred to him with a racial slur.

She also reportedly asked the woman if she and her husband smoked or drank and expressed that Mexicans “are drunks” and have parties on the weekends.

The incident reportedly took place March 9, 2009.

In an interview with a HUD investigator, Jensen reportedly admitted that she inquired whether the husband was an “illegal alien” and that she told the wife she did not want any more “illegal aliens” on the property, according to documents.

She also reportedly admitted she asked whether the couple smoked or drank and stated she advised that police had been coming frequently because of trouble between neighbors.

The federal documents allege the discrimination continued in the next few weeks.

The charge alleges Jensen allowed the couple to move their belongings into a trailer at the property on March 14, 2009, but told them they could not live there until their application was fully accepted.

Two days later, the wife paid the first and last month’s rent, a security deposit and other fees associated with the rental. Jensen also reportedly required the couple submit tax returns.

On March 23, 2009, Jensen and the owners ordered a tenant screening report of the couple that took a few days to process.

That same day, the couple signed a real estate purchase for the trailer.

On March 26, 2009, Jensen reportedly contacted the wife’s sister and told her that the couple’s application had been accepted and that they could begin to live at the property. At that time, the tenant screening report still had not returned.

Days later, Jensen reportedly knocked on the couple’s door and angrily informed them that the results of the report were “not good,” and she accused the wife of lying about their past rental history.

On April 3, the wife and her sister reviewed the report with Jensen, and the wife claimed someone had stolen her identity, to which Jensen accused her of lying. The wife filed a report with the Albert Lea Police Department alleging the identity theft.

After reviewing the negative credit report, Johnston reportedly directed Jensen to demand an additional $1,000 security deposit from the couple if they wanted to live at the property or else have additional co-signers. The couple refused to pay an additional security deposit or obtain cosigners because they believed those were discriminatory conditions.

The investigation also found evidence showing that other Mexican Americans living in the park had also been subjected to ethnic slurs by the manager. The case will be heard by a U.S. administrative law judge unless any party elects to have the case heard in federal district court.

If an administrative law judge finds discrimination, he can award damages to the couple. The judge may also impose fines to vindicate the public interest, order other relief to deter further discrimination or require payment of attorney fees. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages to the couple.

“Discrimination has no home in America,” said John Trasviña, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, in a news release. “Mobile home residents do not have to accept derogatory statements based on their national origin when trying to rent.”

Calls to Johnston and Richert at their Windstone Properties offices in St. Charles were not immediately returned. No one was at the office in the park Wednesday afternoon.