A federal judge in Maryland denied a motion Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit brought against Bank of America and Safeguard Properties Management by the National Fair Housing Alliance, 19 fair housing organizations and two homeowners for alleged fair housing violations.
The suit, filed in June 2018, accuses the two companies of intentionally failing to provide routine exterior maintenance and marketing for Bank of America-owned homes in African American and Latino neighborhoods across 37 metro areas, while consistently maintaining similar bank-owned properties in white neighborhoods.
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NFHA said the lawsuit was the culmination of a multi-year investigation by the organization and its fair housing partners that included a review of more than 1,600 Bank of America-owned homes in White, African-American and Latino neighborhoods.
While Bank of America and Safeguard moved to dismiss the case, a federal judge denied the motion, stating that the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged disparate impact. The judge further determined that there is no statute of limitations issue and that the court has specific jurisdiction, denying all grounds presented for dismissal.
“The facts pled raise a reasonable inference that the defendants violated anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act,” the judge wrote. “The threshold and legal arguments for dismissal are not persuasive.”
NFHA CEO and President Lisa Rice said the group is pleased with the judge’s ruling and looks forward to seeing the lawsuit through.
“Bank of America and Safeguard must be held accountable for their discriminatory actions, must make substantial changes to their policies and practices, and must make the communities they have harmed whole,” Rice said. “Their inaction and refusal to maintain properties in communities of color has created a dangerous and harmful environment.”
Safeguard Properties Management objected to the ruling, telling HousingWire, “We respectfully disagree with the judge’s decision. Safeguard does not discriminate against anyone in the services it provides, and it looks forward to providing the court with evidence in a summary judgment motion that will demonstrate that there is no basis to the Plaintiffs’ claims.”
Details of the companies' alleged discrimination first arose last summer when the suit was filed and details came to light.
The plaintiffs presented extensive photographic evidence of the disrepair apparent in minority neighborhoods, which included wildly overgrown grass and weeds, unsecured doors and windows, damaged steps and handrails, accumulated trash and debris, unsecured pools, graffiti and even dead animals decaying in the yards.
By contrast, the lawsuit alleges that in predominantly white working- and middle-class neighborhoods, homes are far more likely to have the lawns mowed and edged regularly, invasive weeds and vines removed, windows and doors secured or repaired, debris and trash removed, leaves raked and graffiti erased from the property.
NFHA claims it first made Bank of America aware of these problems back in 2009, and even offered recommendations for improvement. However, no such improvements were made, according to the alliance.
Now, it appears the lender will have to answer for the disparity in court.