BNI sues apartment complex, owners

Woman with child alleges bias in federal suit

October 15, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A housing advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit yesterday accusing owners and operators of a Dundalk apartment complex of violating the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent a one-bedroom apartment to a mother and child.

C. Christopher Brown, an attorney representing Michelle Wetzel and Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. (BNI), said Wetzel tried to lease a one-bedroom apartment in June for herself and her 2-year-old daughter, Brittany, but was told by a rental agent that she would have to rent a two-bedroom unit.

The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination against tenants based on several criteria, including gender, race and parental status. Brown said that the law was violated when Fairlawn Apartments in Dundalk penalized Wetzel for having a child.

"This is a serious problem that typically single parents, especially single mothers, seem to encounter," Brown said. "We believe that this is a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act."

The suit seeks $10,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages from C & L Associates, a Baltimore-based company that runs the apartment complex, and the owners, E. L. Chapolini of Rosedale and Robert Lating of Baltimore.

Reached at his home last night, Chapolini said neither he nor Lating had had a chance to review the suit. He declined to comment.

According to the suit, Wetzel contacted the 138-unit complex to find an apartment closer to her job. The suit alleges that Wetzel was told that it was the complex's policy to rent only two-bedroom units to a parent and child.

The rental agent told Wetzel that if a woman residing in a one-bedroom apartment became pregnant, she would have to move to a two-bedroom apartment, the suit said. Other individuals, acting as testers for BNI, were told the same thing, the suit said.

Wetzel, who could not afford a two-bedroom apartment, moved to Glen Burnie, Brown said.

"If these were two adults wanting to rent, they would have let them share an apartment," Brown said.

BNI is a private, nonprofit organization that describes itself as working to ensure equal housing opportunities.

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