Bethesda developer and Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow and his business, Landow and Co., were found in violation yesterday of an agreement with the Fair Housing Commission of Greater Washington but cleared of allegations that they had violated federal fair housing and civil rights laws.
U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Garbis found that Mr. Landow and his company "did not comply in virtually every area" of a binding out-of-court agreement struck after the developer and his company were charged with housing discrimination in August 1987.
However, Judge Garbis found that the violations -- one of which the judge referred to as "atrocious" -- did not amount to violations of the federal fair housing or civil rights laws.
"Nathan Landow has not been shown to have engaged in racial discrimination. I do not find he has a belief contrary to the fair housing law," the judge said.
Fair Housing Commission officials, he said, "made a rush to judgment" on the discrimination charges. They might have been better served, he said, if they had presented more concrete and unambiguous evidence.
John Relman, an attorney representing the housing organization, said he was gratified at the judge's order that Mr. Landow and his company must now comply with the original agreement. But he maintained that the judge erred in not finding the developer and Democratic Party fund-raiser guilty of the more serious violations.
He said he expected the ruling would be appealed.
Mr. Landow did not appear in court and could not be reached for comment.
Judge Garbis observed that Mr. Landow had "a deep dislike for the tactics of the Fair Housing Commission" -- based on Mr. Landow's belief that the commission had "blackmailed" him into a $20,000 donation to the commission. The commission contends the money was part of a settlement in the original housing discrimination case. Mr. Landow had also called the $20,000 payment a donation in keeping with his long-standing support of fair housing practices.
The charges against Mr. Landow and his company stemmed from a complaint lodged after so-called testers attempted to rent apartments at The Seasons, an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue in Bethesda owned by Mr. Landow and his company.
Judge Garbis said that to advertise that apartments would be available to all "subject to availability" was "atrocious" and might have suggested the presence of a quota. He also found that the percentage of minority tenants in the Landow property appeared to be in conformity with the population of Bethesda.
The judge was critical of Mr. Landow's son, David, who testified that he had missed fair housing seminars because the chairs were uncomfortable. "I found the testimony on that point despicable," the judge said.