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Hispanic, Black Langley Park tenants sue landlord, allege housing bias

“We do not want slumlords in Langley Park,” Gustavo Torres, CASA de Maryland’s executive director, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. (AP File Photo/ Matt Houston)

A real estate investment company intentionally neglected its two Langley Park properties to maximize shareholder profits without regard for the health and financial well-being of its low-income tenants, who are exclusively Hispanic or Black, a civil rights group has alleged in a federal housing discrimination lawsuit filed this week.

Arbor Realty Trust Inc. has allowed its Bedford Station and Victoria Station apartments, the BVS homes, to decay — despite its minority tenants’ pleas — while refurbishing its properties in white, or increasingly white, neighborhoods, CASA de Maryland stated in its complaint in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Arbor’s intentional “targeting” of minority tenants violates the federal Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on national origin and racial discrimination, alleged CASA de Maryland, a Hispanic rights group.

An Arbor representative did not immediately return telephone and email messages Wednesday seeking comment on the lawsuit and its allegations against the publicly traded Uniondale, New York-based company.

The BVS homes consist of 589 one- or two-bedroom apartments and a population that is 85.2% Hispanic and 14.8% black, according to the complaint filed Monday.

“Arbor’s motivation to conduct maintenance or to completely rehabilitate a property in a predominantly white neighborhood that has not been renovated in over 10 years and presents a tremendous value-add opportunity through unit upgrades and operation overhaul, as compared to Arbor’s ownership and refusal to make any significant improvements to BVS, which has not been renovated in nearly 70 years is unexplainable on grounds other than race and plainly departs from Arbor’s regular course of action,” CASA’s attorneys, P. Joseph Donahue and Jonathan Nace, wrote in the complaint. “Defendant Arbor’s conduct constitutes intentional discrimination on the basis of race and national origin.”

The complaint alleged Arbor engaged in four discriminatory “policies and practices” to drive income and which harmed BVS homes’ low-income Black and Hispanic tenants.

Under an “opportunistic target and harvest policy,” Arbor would buy cheap multifamily housing in poor minority neighborhoods, invest nearly nothing and increase rents to boost profits and shareholders’ dividends, the complaint stated. The company would then outsource these properties to management companies for the purpose of initiating eviction proceedings against tenants who failed to make their rent payments, the complaint added.

Arbor also had a “divestment policy” under which it would largely forgo maintaining older properties in minority neighborhoods, as occurred in Langley Park, according to the complaint.

In addition, Arbor had a “financialization policy” of buying properties in gentrifying communities, making the types of repairs and refurbishments denied to the BVS homes and then increasing rent dramatically to drive the existing tenants out, the complaint stated.

At the BVS homes, broken windows were replaced with plywood; holes in foundations were “haphazardly plugged or left open;” toxic mold was left unremediated; rodent infestations were permitted to propagate; poorly installed air conditioning units were neither repaired nor replaced; bathroom radiators were permitted to deteriorate; paint was left to chip; defective electrical lines were not replaced; and trash was not removed, CASA de Maryland stated in its complaint joined by BVS residents.

“We do not want slumlords in Langley Park,” Gustavo Torres, CASA de Maryland’s executive director, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “We do not want an out of state property owner who intentionally divests from our community because of our country of origin or the language we speak. We do not want this real estate investment trust … to think they can enrich their investors on the backs of the women and children who live in the apartments they own.”

The lawsuit seeks full compensation and punitive damages for the BVS tenants, compensation for CASA de Maryland, and an award of attorneys’ fees, court costs and expenses for Donahue and Nace, of The Donahue Law Firm LLC in Annapolis and Nidel & Nace PLLC in Rockville, respectively.

The case is docketed in U.S. District Court as CASA de Maryland Inc. et al. v. Arbor Realty Trust Inc. et al., No. 8:21-cv-01778-CBD.