United States of America and Taika Bilbo, et al. v. Clifton Hylton, et al.: A federal judge has ordered a pair of landlords to pay more than $100,000 in damages after allegedly discriminating against prospective tenants because of their race.
U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall, in a recent written ruling following a spring bench trial has ordered Merline Hylton, the owner of 5 Townline Road in Windsor Locks, her husband Clifton Hylton and Hylton Real Estate Management to pay three victims a total of $76,091, which includes punitive damages, plus $37,422 in attorney's fees
The Connecticut Fair Housing Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2011 on behalf of the alleged victims of the discrimination.
According to court documents, the Hyltons, a black couple of West-Indian descent own multiple properties in Connecticut. Clifton Hylton handled the renting of the Windsor Locks property on Townline Road.
Another couple, Jermaine and Taika Bilbo, who have three children, responded to an ad about renting the property and met with Mr. Hylton. The mixed race couple (Jermaine is black, Taika is white) looked at the property, filled out a rental application and were approved.
The Bilbos moved into the property May 1, 2010 but by the end of the month had been approved on a loan to purchase a home that they had been looking at prior to renting and did not think they could afford.
The Bilbos told Mr. Hylton they would need to break the lease. Unhappy, Hylton told them they would have to buy out the lease. The Bilbos decided it would be more beneficial for the landlord if they simply sublet the property for the $1,750 a month rent, so they placed their own ad about the property.
DeMechia Wilson, who has two children, responded to the ad. The property was just 10 minutes from her job. The Bilbos told Mr. Hylton they felt comfortable subletting to Wilson.
Hylton, however, initially consented but then asked the Bilbos if Wilson was black. Hylton said he did not want too many blacks living on the property. He said he rented to the Bilbos because they were a "good mix" since the wife was white. He further said too many blacks would upset the neighbors.
Hylton then told the Bilbos to find some good white tenants who could afford to pay the rent.
According to court documents, Mr. Bilbo was "confused and upset by the conversation. He did not understand how Mr. Hylton could make such statements when he himself is black. Mr. Bilbo expects to face racism, but not from older black men who he presumes faced even worse incidents of discrimination than he." Mr. Bilbo called Wilson immediately after his conversation with Mr. Hylton and told her what happened and apologized that he would not be able to sublet to her.
Wilson, too, was surprised by the racial remarks from Hylton and was disappointed that she would have to start her rental search all over again.
The Bilbos moved out on July 1, 2010 and never got their $1,750 security deposit back.
On Aug. 1, 2010, Hylton rented to Francsoise and Stephen Jones, a white couple.
Wilson later did some research on housing discrimination and contacted the Connecticut Fair Housing Center who submitted a complaint to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD conducted an investigation and Mr. Hylton told an investigator during an interview that, "if you rent to a Puerto Rican today, I guarantee there will be 10 people there tomorrow."
In direct response to the investigation regarding Wilson, the Hyltons claimed that they had advertised the property themselves, received a number of offers, interviewed a number of people and made their choice.
The 2011 HUD complaint alleges that the Hyltons violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent to Wilson because of her race.
Following a bench trial in March, Judge Hall in a recent written ruling sided with the plaintiffs.
"Mr. Hylton agreed to sublet to Ms. Wilson and only changed his mind once he learned of her race, showing that there could have been no other reason for the denial than Ms. Wilson's race," wrote Hall in her decision.
In addition to awarding the monetary damages to the Bilbos and Wilson, Judge Hall ordered that the Hyltons complete three hours of fair housing training each year, post signs on their properties indicating that their dwellings are available on a non-discriminatory basis, and report to the government any complaints alleging discrimination filed by their tenants.
"Racial discrimination in housing not only violates the law and our commonly-held moral precepts as Americans, it also causes great economic and social harm to the family denied the opportunity to live in the neighborhood of their choice," said HUD's Acting Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene in a prepared statement. "HUD and the Department of Justice will continue to enforce the fair housing laws to ensure that everyone with the wherewithal to pay has equal access to America's neighborhoods."
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ndidi N. Moses and Timothy Bennett-Smyth from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.•