A South Florida mother was reportedly denied the renewal of her apartment lease for a fairly bizarre reason: She didn't provide an ultrasound image to her landlord while she was pregnant.
Tiesha Davis, a single working mother of three kids, lives in a privately owned housing complex named Sorrento Rental Community. She signed the rental agreement toward the end of last year when she was four months pregnant.
However, at the beginning of this year, things got problematic for the 26-year-old African-American woman when Jose Galindo, the assistant property manager of the complex, reportedly refused to renew her 12-month lease because she hadn't disclosed her pregnancy or provided an ultrasound photo.
"He said, 'We're not going to renew your lease.' And I said, 'Why?'" Davis told Local 10 News. "He said, 'Because of your pregnancy.'"
Davis was obviously taken aback by the outrageous objection of the manager and decided to file a lawsuit in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on April 3.
According to the suit, Galindo was aware about Davis’ pregnancy when they first met in September 2017.
"During such time Ms. Davis was noticeably pregnant, to the extent that Mr. Galindo insisted that she sit in the front seat of the golf cart when he was driving her through the property,” the complaint stated. “But in January, according to the complaint, Galindo asked Davis if she was pregnant, after monthly pest control visits and an inspection of her apartment turned up baby goods in her closet. Galindo stated that Davis should have let them know that she was pregnant in her application, that she had to check a box, and that she was required to show them a letter from her doctor and an ultrasound at the time of the tenancy."
Fair housing advocates and Davis’ attorney rose to the defense of the single mother, who was able to find an affordable apartment for her small family after almost a year of house hunting.
"Every day I'm going looking for apartments. I can't focus on my job. I can't focus on my children," said Davis, who also works full time.
Keenya Robertson, president and CEO of Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence or HOPE, declared such an act a blatant violation of the Fair Housing Act.
"To ask for a photograph of the inside of a mother's womb is so intrusive, invasive, it has absolutely no business reason for being in an application for rent," Robertson added.
HOPE, a nonprofit organization established to fight housing discrimination, conducted an experiment where it sent two women — one white Hispanic and the other African American — posing as pregnant to Sorrento and a sister property, Monterra, in Cooper City.
According to the lawsuit, the testers were handed a list of requirements they needed to meet in order to qualify as renters, but no mention was made of tests regarding pregnancy or unborn children.
However, the African-American tester was asked additional questions about arrests or any other information that could possibly result in a denial of tenancy.
HOPE soon sent another tester Akia Wiggins-Shabazz, a young African-American mother like Davis, to Sorrento. She posed as pregnant and mother of a 5-year-old.
Turned out, Wiggins-Shabazz was asked to provide a verification note from the doctor along with an ultrasound.
"Our tester [was] told that an ultrasound and letter certifying pregnancy and giving a date that the child was due was a requirement," Robertson said.
Davis' attorney, Matthew Dietz, was also baffled by the notion and wondered how many people were denied apartments based on this needless requirement.
"Because they are essentially not renewing her lease, because of the fact that she didn't tell them about a pregnancy, is the reason why we're suing them," he said. "How many people were evicted? How many people didn't get apartments? How many people have they hurt before?"
The suit is pressing the court to hold the housing management accountable for discriminating against potential tenants on basis of their sex or family status. It has also asked for a compensation for causing Davis “humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress."
"You're denying housing to those people who this housing was intended to benefit," Robertson said. "You're not doing what it is you said you'd do when you took our tax dollars to make this housing available."
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