TRENTON — Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and Division on Civil Rights Director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo announced today that New Jersey has issued a Finding of Probable Cause against the owner of a Passaic County apartment house for allegedly denying an apartment to two prospective tenants on the basis of race.
Named as respondents in the Finding of Probable Cause document are The Parker Inn, Inc., of Clifton, and its owner, Kemal Lepenica. The Respondents are accused of refusing to rent to prospective tenant Edward Mirrer, also of Clifton, and his roommate Jonnie Coleman, after learning that Ms. Coleman was African-American.
A Finding of Probable Cause means the State has finished its investigation, and has determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion that the actions of Lepenica and The Parker Inn violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).
“This is America, and in America, all people have the right to live where they choose,” said Attorney General Harvey. “Through the use of undercover testers and other means, we have increased investigation and prosecution of housing discrimination cases, and we intend to continue doing so. We are committed to discouraging an “us and them” mentality among housing providers, and to ensuring equal opportunity for all renters.”
According to the Finding of Probable Cause document, Edward Mirrer, who is white, responded in February 2005 to an advertisement for an available apartment at The Parker Inn on behalf of himself and his roommate, Ms. Coleman.
Mirrer was shown an available unit by the owner, Lepenica, on February 8, 2005, then submitted a deposit in order to rent the apartment. It was agreed that Mirrer would return the following day in order to finalize the paperwork.
That evening Ms. Coleman, an African-American, went to The Parker Inn to try to see the apartment, but was unable. According to the Finding of Probable Cause document, Mirrer returned the next day to pay the balance he owed, only to learn that Lepenica had withdrawn his offer for the apartment. Mirrer told state investigators that he was advised by Lepenica that Lepenica did not want African-Americans living in his building.
In light of the investigation conducted by the Division on Civil Rights’ Housing Investigations Unit, Division Director Vespa-Papaleo said he found that probable cause exists to credit the allegations of Mirrer and Coleman.
“The establishment of a specialized Housing Investigations Unit has been successful in combating discriminatory conduct like that alleged in this matter,” said Vespa-Papaleo. “In this case, it seems clear that the landlord had every intention of renting the apartment to the complainants until he learned one of them is African-American. We need to send a message to the citizens of New Jersey that housing discrimination will not be tolerated, and that those who discriminate will be penalized accordingly.”
In the wake of the Finding of Probable Cause, the case is now in a phase known as Conciliation. Conciliation is a statutorily-required last settlement process. Should Conciliation not resolve the matter, the case will be referred to a state Administrative Law Judge. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. If found to have unlawfully barred Mirrer and Ms. Coleman from renting an apartment on the basis of Ms. Coleman’s race, the Respondents could be required to pay up to $10,000 in damages.
The Division on Civil Rights within the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcing the LAD and the Family Leave Act. Specifically, the Division investigates allegations of discrimination in employment, housing, places of public accommodation and credit. Its offices are located in Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, and Trenton. Further information about the Division is available on its Web site www.NJCivilrights.org .
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