Landlord ordered to pay in bias case She denies turning away black prospective tenant

September 04, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Human Rights Commission has ordered a Highland landlord to pay more than $6,000 for discriminating against an African-American man.

Lena Regan, who has owned a large Victorian country house on Route 216 since 1969, strongly denied the commission's finding and said she would appeal. She says she has rented two apartments in the home to black and white tenants alike.

The commission ruled that Regan discriminated against a prospective tenant two years ago because he is African-American.

The three-member panel ordered Regan to pay James Jackson $5,077 in damages and fined her $1,000 for violating the federal Fair Housing Act and the county's Human Rights Law.

"The Panel concludes that [Regan] engaged in unlawful housing practices against [Jackson] on the basis of" his race, the panel wrote in a decision dated Aug. 21 and released yesterday. Regan was ordered to "cease and desist from the unlawful practices" and to prepare a written rental policy that includes a nondiscriminatory process for selecting qualified renters.

"It's the most unlawful, crookedest thing I've ever seen in my life," Regan said.

"I've never been prejudiced against anybody."

Jackson and his attorney were unavailable for comment.

The dispute stems from July 27, 1995, when Jackson said he called Regan after reading her advertisement in a local newspaper about renting a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment for $525 a month.

According to the ruling, released by the county Office of Human Rights, Jackson told the commission that he had discussed the apartment with Regan, who then asked if he was African-American.

Jackson testified that after he said yes, Regan said she would not rent to black people because they had treated her poorly, and her white neighbors would not want to live next door to a black renter.

Jackson said he called her two more times, but she refused to rent him the apartment each time, according to the decision. Jackson also told the panel that when his girlfriend called, Regan did not inquire about the girlfriend's ethnic background and gave her directions to see the apartment.

The Office of Human Rights tries to settle disputes before they go to a hearing before the commission.

An investigator from that office testified that during her conversation with Regan, she acknowledged that she had refused to let Jackson rent the apartment.

The investigator also told the commission that Regan said she did not believe that she had to rent to African-Americans or Asian-Americans if she didn't want to.

The commission ruled in Jackson's favor, citing Regan's own testimony that she never checked Jackson's financial background until after a complaint was lodged against her.

But in a telephone interview yesterday, Regan denied ever talking to Jackson on the phone about the apartment.

"I spoke to three or four women. I never spoke to a man," Regan said.

"He didn't even know my name or where I lived."

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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