California Apartment Building Owner Charged With Discriminating Against A Growing Family


A California apartment building owner who suggested a couple move into a bigger unit to accommodate their growing family is being charged with discrimination by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials.

Melinda Teruel is accused of making repeated efforts to convince the couple to move into a larger apartment in the city of Burlingame even though they told her they could not afford it. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against families with children under the age of 18.

“As HUD prepares to commemorate Fair Housing Month during April 2023, this charge of discrimination is a reminder that the fight for fair housing must continue,” Demetria McCain, HUD’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement released Monday.

Court documents show that when the couple met Teruel in the parking lot of a bank in 2017 before moving into their 600-square-foot, one-bedroom unit, she commented on the fact that the couple was expecting.

“You’re pregnant, it is such a small unit. I wish I had known,” Teruel allegedly said.

Teruel allegedly said that she had just rented a two-bedroom unit and had a three-bedroom unit on the lower floor that was available. The couple declined the larger unit because of the price.

During the second year of the couple’s tenancy, Teruel allegedly began reaching out at least once a week to try and convince them to get into a bigger apartment. Since only one person was working, and he was still in his probationary period with the San Francisco Fire Department, the couple declined a larger unit.

The court documents show that the couple was paying $1,800 a month for their one-bedroom unit. Two bedrooms would have cost them $3,000 per month, and three bedrooms would have cost $4,000 a month in December 2018.

When Teruel found out the couple was pregnant again in 2019, she allegedly told them they could not stay in a one-bedroom unit because children would cause damage to it.

“I allowed your family to live here even though you have one child, but now that you will have two, you need to move to another unit,” Teruel allegedly said.

In the months that followed, Teruel allegedly continued to try and convince the couple to move, even suggesting more than once that they open a daycare to afford the higher rent. On June 1, 2020, the couple provided a 30-day notice of intent to leave the property.

In a June 30, 2020, email, Teruel denied harassing the couple.

“I did not and never told you (nor intended to tell) how many children to have but rental places have restrictions,” Teruel wrote. “I never hassled you to move anywhere or even discussed your situation.”

Teruel allegedly kept the entirety of the couple’s $1,800 security deposit, accusing them and their children of causing substantial damage to the unit. Officials say she failed to provide investigators with any evidence of that damage and that the unit could have held up to five people.

“As a result of respondent Teruel’s discriminatory conduct, complainants suffered actual damages, including a lost housing opportunity, emotional distress, inconvenience, and out-of-pocket costs,” officials said in the court documents.

Teruel was sued in 2018 for allegedly threatening to report a former tenant to immigration authorities during an eviction dispute.

HUD’s General Counsel Damon Smith said this charge should put landlords on notice.

“The Fair Housing Act protects families from discrimination because of the presence of children or because they are expecting a child,” Smith said in a statement.

Officials say that a United States administrative law judge will hear the case unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court.

If an administrative law judge finds that discrimination has occurred, they may award damages to the couple, order injunctive relief and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, require the payment of attorney fees, and impose civil penalties.

If a federal court hears the case, the judge may also award punitive damages to the complainants, according to officials.

HUD officials kicked off Fair Housing Month on Monday.

This year’s Fair Housing Month theme is “Choices for All Voices: Building an Equitable Future.”

Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement that it has been 55 years since the act was passed, and they are still working to fight housing discrimination.

“Today, we recommit to our mission to provide equality and opportunity to every person who calls America home, regardless of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation or gender identity), disability, or familial status,” Fudge said.

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