On its website, Design Place at 5175 NE Second Court is billed as the Design District's most desirable Miami condo rental community for young professionals, graduate students and small families. But a local organization that fights unfair housing practices is suing SPV Realty, a New York company that owns the 500-unit apartment complex, for allegedly making Design Place undesirable to African-Americans.
SPV Realty principal George Dfouni says he has not seen the complaint, but denies his company is redlining African-Americans. "The allegations are false," Dfouni says. "You can't discriminate, especially in Miami. We have Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans at Design Place."
In a lawsuit filed today in Miami federal court, HOPE Fair Housing Center claims it sent three African-Americans and three Anglo Americans to Design Place in October to find out how they would be treated by SPV rental agents. According to court documents, the results were startlingly racist.
For example, India Bazemore, a 47-year-old African-American woman working for HOPE, claims she inquired about renting a one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment on October 19. Bazemore alleges the leasing agent informed her no units were available and that she would need to submit a $1,195 deposit and $25 application fee to be put on a waiting list. The agent gave Bazemore an application, but did not give her any forms to fill out while she was in the leasing office.
The same day, a 28-year-old white female named Erin Lewis also went to Design Place to inquire about a two-bedroom unit. Lewis claims the leasing agent told her two units were available and had her fill out a form that included a question about how soon she wanted to move in. Lewis also said the agent was eager to give her a tour of the office apartment model and Design Place's amenities, as well as have her fill out the application.
The lawsuit also alleges the African-American renters were quoted higher rental rates than their Anglo counterparts and that SPV Realty publishes advertisements that show a preference for white tenants by only showing white people in the ads.
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"I call this discrimination by design," says HOPE President Keena J. Robertson. "Housing discrimination of any kind is unacceptable."
Dfouni insists his company does not treat any potential renters differently because of skin color. "We qualify people based on credit reports and background checks," he says. "We talk to former landlords to find out if they are good tenants. That is how we base it."