When Zipporah Hayes arrived at Elite River View Apartments to ask about a two-bedroom apartment for rent, the rental manager told her there were no units available, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the apartment complex owner.
Two hours later, Alexandra Del Rosario visited the same complex and asked about an apartment. The rental manager showed Del Rosario Penthouse 703. If approved, he said, “she can move in anytime.”
Hayes is African-American. Del Rosario is Hispanic.
A Miami-based fair housing organization — Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence (HOPE) — has filed a lawsuit against the apartment complex at 1750 NW 27 Ave., after “testing” the apartment complex three times from February to March. HOPE was checking to see whether the apartment complex had a pattern of renting units based on race — a discriminatory practice forbidden by the federal Fair Housing Act
HOPE, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, conducts random, periodic discrimination testing.
Last week, HOPE and three African-American testers filed a federal lawsuit naming Elite River View Apartment Inc. and the manager Roberto “Doe” as defendants. The complaint alleges on three separate dates African-American testers were given the same message: no units were available. An hour or two later, a Hispanic tester would arrive and Roberto would show them available apartments.
“I am saddened and sickened at the same time,” said HOPE president Keenya Robertson. “We are 46 years past the Fair Housing Act that prohibits housing discrimination and we are still seeing the same kind of discriminatory activity. Racism is alive and well.”
Rolando Barrero, owner of Elite River View Apartments, did not respond to requests for comment. The rental manager, who would only give his first name as Roberto, said Elite River View Apartments welcomes all renters.
Roberto said he gives tours of the complex when units are available and tells prospective tenants apartments are given on a first-come-first-serve basis.
“I don’t discriminate or have preference for anyone,” Roberto said in Spanish. He declined to comment when pressed on the specific allegations about him telling prospective African-American renters that there were no available units, yet showing vacant units to a Hispanic person.
Here are the details, according to the HOPE lawsuit:
On March 13, Michael Goldwire, an African-American tester, visited the Elite River View Apartment office. The office was closed, so Goldwire called a posted telephone number for the manager. He spoke to a man named Roberto and asked to see a two-bedroom apartment. Roberto responded there weren’t any apartments available.
The lawsuit alleges Roberto knew Goldwire was African-American because of the surveillance cameras at the secured entrance.
Two hours later, Eugenio Reyes, a Hispanic tester, arrived and went inside the complex where he met Roberto. Roberto identified himself as the manager and janitor. Reyes asked to see a two-bedroom apartment. Roberto showed him Apartment 702.
On March 20, Lakeisha Wright, another African-American tester, knocked on the apartment complex’s office door. When she received no answer, she called the manager’s number. Roberto answered, telling her no units were available.
Just over an hour later, Laura Morales, a Hispanic tester, arrived at the complex and called Roberto, who met her in the parking lot and greeted her in Spanish. At her request, Roberto showed Morales a two-bedroom apartment, unit 703.
The plaintiffs are represented by Randall Berg Jr. and Dante Trevisani, civil rights attorneys at the Florida Justice Institute in Miami.
Berg said if not for these types of testing, most people wouldn’t know they were being discriminated against based on their race.
“Doing this type of testing is very important,” he said. “It’s very depressing for someone of color to know you are being denied housing on the basis of your skin. Miami is considered a major up and coming area. If we are going to become the type of community we want Miami to be, we have to end this practice once and for all.”