JEFFERSONVILLE — A Jeffersonville woman and a fair housing advocacy group have filed a lawsuit against a local property management company for alleged discrimination.
According to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, 24-year-old Meredith Fortner tried to rent a two-bedroom apartment at Alyson Circle Apartments in June. The complex is owned by Pinnacle Properties Development Group, which reportedly manages more than 400 rental spaces in Clark County.
Fortner alleges a manager asked her who would reside in the apartment. When Fortner told the manager it would be her and her three children, including one infant that would stay in one of the bedrooms with her, the manager said, "No, my supervisor will not allow that," the lawsuit reads. When Fortner's mother called Pinnacle Properties and asked if that was true, an agent said, "Yes. That's the law."
Fortner reached out to the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, or FHCCI, later that month. The non-profit organization aims to eliminate housing discrimination through outreach and advocacy, according to its website. After hearing Fortner's story, FHCCI used "testers" to go undercover and call Pinnacle Properties to inquire about two-bedroom apartments. Each tester posed as a single mother with three kids and all of them were told in various ways that they could not house three kids in a two-bedroom apartment.
Amy Nelson, executive director of FHCCI, said testers are used to uncover discrimination. Undercover investigation is sometimes the only way to do that, she said. FHCCI says that what it uncovered in this case is a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits property managers from denying housing to someone based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or the presence of children.
According to the lawsuit, a Pinnacle Properties employee told Fortner's mother they were just following the law, but it's unclear exactly what law the employee was referring to. In one case, a rental agent reportedly told a tester that "adults can't share bedrooms with children because of fair housing law." The registered agent for Pinnacle Properties, Christopher Nolan, could not be reached for comment. Another representative did not return a message by deadline.
"We are not aware what law they may have been following and look forward to hearing about that," Nelson said, adding that she is not aware of any occupancy laws in Indiana that would limit one person per bedroom.
"I'm not certain they're referring to an occupancy standard law given that some of the comments made by the agent related more to having a baby in the room. So I'm not aware of it being a square footage based issue."
The lawsuit also alleges Pinnacle had different rent prices and criteria based on familial status. Nelson said families were added as a protected group under federal fair housing law in 1988, and Indiana followed suit. The change came after Congress saw the impact on families being denied housing, Nelson added.
FHCCI says Fortner suffered emotional distress because of Pinnacle's actions. Fortner is now living with her mother and three children and still trying to find housing. She's seeking compensation for damages, but Nelson said that's not what's most important about the lawsuit.
"Of course our main goal is always to get the policy changed to make sure that it abides by fair housing laws," she said. "And after that it would potentially be up to whatever a judge or jury felt was appropriate."