Tiesha Davis was in the third trimester of her pregnancy and had recently moved into the Sorrento apartment community in Miramar when she got distressing news.
A notice said her lease wouldn’t be renewed, and an assistant property manager told her over the phone that she should have told management she was pregnant when she applied to rent there — and should have provided an ultrasound and a doctor’s note, according to court filings.
“It’s one of those things where you look at it and say, ‘Are they really doing that?’ It was shocking to say the least,” said Matthew Dietz, Davis’ attorney. “It’s extraordinarily invasive. … The only purpose is to limit the amount of people in a unit.”
A federal lawsuit alleging violations of both the Fair Housing Act and the Broward County code was filed against the 320-unit Sorrento, the 300-unit Monterra complex in Cooper City and their management company, Orlando-based ZRS Management LLC.
Dietz, who filed the complaint, is the founding member and litigation director at the Disability Independence Group Inc., a Miami-based nonprofit that works for people with disabilities through education, litigation and training.
Monterra and Sorrento are affordable rental communities and received public bond financing, according to the April 3 complaint.
It lists three FHA violations alleging denial of rental opportunities, discrimination in terms and conditions and discriminatory publications and a Broward County code violation count for discrimination over pregnancy in housing.
The lawsuit seeks for Davis to be allowed to stay in her apartment and seeks unspecified damages.
Representatives who answered the phone at Sorrento and Monterra declined to comment.
Schwed Kahle & Kress partner Douglas Kahle represents ZRS Management. He didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
Davis, who is African-American and now a mother of three, was four months’ pregnant last September when she met with assistant property manager Jose Galindo and they looked at an apartment. She signed a lease Sept. 26, according to the complaint.
It’s believed Galindo knew at the time that she was pregnant — he insisted she sit in the front seat of the golf cart when he drove her around the property — but didn’t raise the issue until about three months later after Sorrento leasing consultant Rosa Diaz came into Davis’ apartment with a pest control worker, according to the complaint.
Diaz saw boxes of diapers and other baby things she received at a baby shower, the complaint said. Galindo called Davis later the same day to ask if she was pregnant. When Davis said she was, he told her she should have provided an ultrasound and doctor’s note when she applied to live there.
Soon after, she received the nonrenewal notice saying her lease application was inaccurate because she should have checked a box indicating she was pregnant, according to the complaint.
Dietz said there are no written rules, lease terms or boxes to check about pregnancy and number of children.
The notice added more stress to Davis, who was having a high-risk pregnancy. She has diabetes and carried excess amniotic fluid, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit seeks to protect other tenants by asking the court to compel the complexes and management to provide parents with a notice of their FHA rights.
Davis initially took her complaint to the Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence Inc., a Miami-based nonprofit working to promote fair housing. The advocacy group already had been investigating Sorrento, according to the complaint.
Testers posing as potential tenants were sent to investigate possible housing discrimination, and they were given a document asking to show a Social Security card and were warned applications would be denied over arrests, whether or not there was a conviction.
The policy can have a discriminatory and disparate impact on African-Americans and Latinos, said Keenya Robertson, CEO of the Housing Opportunities Project.
The Social Security card requirement is discriminatory based on national origin, according to the complaint.
After Davis’ report, tester Akia Wiggins-Shabazz went to Sorrento and Monterra asking about renting and said she was pregnant. In response, she was told at both places she needed to submit an ultrasound and a doctor’s note, according to the complaint. Wiggins-Shabazz and Housing Opportunities Project also are plaintiffs.
Now that the issue has been raised, Dietz said other residents have stepped forward with similar complaints about the complexes.
“This is their own apartment. It’s their own leases. They are adults. To be under the scrutiny for doing nothing that is in violation of the lease, it’s extraordinarily invasive,” Dietz said.
The defendants include ZOM Foxcroft LP, which owns the Sorrento property, and ZOM Monterra LP, which owns the Monterra property.