INDIA-WEST, AUG. 29, 2008
Sunnyvale Complex Settles Anti-Indian Bias Suit
By SUNITA SOHRABJI
India-West Staff Reporter
SUNNYVALE, Calif. – The owner and manager of a large
Sunnyvale, Calif., apartment complex have settled a housing discrimination suit for $100,000, which alleged that Indian American tenants had been segregated into a less-desirable section of the property.
The suit, which was settled out of court last month, alleged that Steve Pavlina, owner of Remington Grove, and manager Maria Arias refused to rent the more desirable cathedral ceiling apartments to Indian American tenants, and steered them instead towards low-ceiling apartments, in areas with high concentrations of Indian American residents. “This practice of making certain units ‘off limits’ to tenants because of their national origin clearly violates California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act,” Phyllis
Cheng, director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, told India-West.
“The department found compelling evidence that the landlord
rented only less desirable apartments to tenants of Indian national origin,” she said.
Pavlina denied all allegations. “The Remington Grove apartments always maintain fair and non-discriminatory housing practices, and treat everyone the same,” he told
India-West, adding, “Anything to the contrary has never been proven in court and we admit no wrongdoing.”
Asked whether he empirically noticed clusters of Indian Americans living in certain areas of his property, Pavlina said the complex had a very diverse population, but statistics on race or ethnicity were not kept.
One part of the complex was renovated more recently with new carpeting and appliances. “The managers preferred to rent that part of the complex to non-Indians,” Liza
Cristol-Deman, an attorney with Brancart and Brancart, which represented the plaintiffs, alleged to India-West, explaining that such practices constituted special treatment for Indians, which is illegal.
A recent walk around the complex noting names on mailboxes indicated Indian American tenants seemed to be clustered into one section of the more than 200-unit complex. When India-West photographer Sameer Yagnik was preparing to take photos of the complex earlier this week, he was threatened with police action by Remington Grove management and ordered off the property.
Several of Remington Grove’s Indian American tenants — who
spoke to India-West on condition of anonymity, saying they feared reprisal from management — said they had been
steered towards the Indian section of the complex and away from the cathedral ceiling apartments.
Narayan Kamasamudran, who has lived at Remington Grove for three years, told India-West he had been steered towards a low-ceilinged, one bedroom apartment. Kamasamudran, orginally from Tirupati, said his apartment was “okay, but kind of old,” adding that he remained there primarily for the location.
The suit was brought on by a former manager for the complex, Martin Perez, and Project Sentinel, a non-profit tenant-landlord mediation organization. According to the suit, Perez said he was directed by Pavlina and Arias not to rent apartments with cathedral ceilings to prospective Indian American tenants because when “they cook food it stinks up the place,” and that cathedral ceiling apartments were harder to clean when Indian tenants left.
Perez said he was directed to tell Indian American tenants that the cathedral ceiling apartments had applications pending and were not available.
Project Sentinel sent out three groups of testers in 2005. In each case, the Indian testers were steered away from cathedral ceiling apartments, while Caucasians were offered lease applications for those units. Perez was subsequently fired in August 2005, apparently after renting a cathedral ceiling apartment to an Indian American tenant. Perez and Project Sentinel filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in February 2006. The DFEH found the case to have sufficient evidence and filed suit in Santa Clara Superior Court later that year.
Ann Marquart, executive director of Project Sentinel, told India-West this was the largest such case her organization had seen, but similar national origin discrimination cases are becoming more common.
“There are a wide range of food cooking smells,” she said.
“What about bacon? Did they steer all cigarette smokers away from cathedral ceiling apartments?” she queried, adding that there were a variety of products on the market to remove food-related smells.
Project Sentinel will continue to send testers out to Remington Grove to see if discrimination against Indian Americans continues, despite the settlement. “We would consider taking legal action against the housing provider again if we see this type of situation continuing,” she
Marquart urged Indian Americans who believe they’ve been
discriminated against because of national origin to contact their local housing agency, which can investigate the case using testers.
Project Sentinel works throughout the Bay Area and in the Central Valley. Information about the organization is available at www.housing.org.