Discrimination is a bad, bad thing — especially in housing. But what if I told you there was a quasi-police force out there who pays shills and plants to apply for your rental apartment, record your every word, and hunt for signs of housing discrimination? What’s worse, when they find something, they sue you, recover all the fines and attorney fees, and use your money to pay their salaries! What is happening in Ohio is sure to grow into a national controversy and the subject of debate about the proper role of government.
Why not condemn the invidious discriminator? Surely we’re picturing the white-robe wearing, cross-burning malcontent who has no business owning or renting property.
Enter Mrs. Grybosky, a 76-year old landlord who rented three units in a Conneaut house to supplement her Social Security income. Perhaps she has an old-world view about the world, but she’s certainly no cross-burner.
The Fair Housing Resource Center of Painesville, Ohio found their mark in the local paper, the Star Beacon, an apartment advertised as “779 Main St… no pets.” With that, the FHRC dispatched the “testers” to ferret out invidious discrimination against the disabled.
A “tester” from the FHRC is a (presumably paid) employee of the FHRC who contacts the landlord and pretends to be interested in the property. FHRC did this eight separate times to Mrs. Grybosky, first concluding that she may have a bias against service animals and a bias against children.
The first round of testers presented themselves, probing Mrs. Grybosky’s willingness to allow service animals. Two testers called Grybosky on the phone, informing her that she had a “therapy” or “comfort dog.” She asserted that she suffered from severe anxiety and her doctor prescribed an assistance dog. Mrs. Grybosky in one instance told the tester that she required a $100 refundable deposit, and told another that pets were not allowed.
In no case did the testers provide Mrs. Grybosky with evidence of a prescription for a “therapy dog,” even though many people of sound mind would find it spurious, even outlandish, that a doctor would actually “prescribe” a dog.
In a second instance, Mrs. Grybosky told another tester that she would not rent the upstairs apartment to a tester with children, stating that children on the second floor could disturb the first-floor tenants.
FHRC contacted Mrs. Grybosky and demanded a $6,500 “settlement,” or face prosecution. Grybosky refused to pay and FHRC took Grybosky to the Civil Rights Commission, complaining that Grybosky, as a “bad actor,” frustrated the purpose or mission of the FHRC. The result?
Actual damages award: $12,000
Punitive damages: $10,000
Attorney fees to Ohio Attorney General: $46,225
Attorney fees to Fair Housing Resource Center: $34,405
Discrimination is bad. Is it so bad that it’s worth $100,000 and 5 years of court? Who’s winning here?
Just like in any great civil proceeding with at least one cantankerous party, the lawyers end up taking everyone’s money, and leaving a trail of wreckage behind. It’s even worse when the people benefiting are receiving federal funds to do it.