WASHINGTON, D.C. and NEW ORLEANS, LA — Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), 18 fair housing organizations, and two homeowners in Maryland filed a federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit against Bank of America, N.A., Bank of America Corp., and Safeguard Properties Management, LLC (“Bank of America/ Safeguard”). The lawsuit alleges Defendants intentionally failed to provide routine exterior maintenance and marketing at Bank of America-owned homes in working- and middle-class African-American and Latino neighborhoods in 37 metropolitan areas, while they consistently maintained similar bank-owned homes in comparable white neighborhoods.
The data presented in the federal lawsuit, which is supported by substantial photographic evidence, shows a glaring pattern of discriminatory conduct by Bank of America/Safeguard. More than 35,000 photos document the relevant conditions of the more than 1,600 Bank of America-owned homes. In neighborhoods of color, Plaintiffs found evidence of poor maintenance such as wildly overgrown grass and weeds, unsecured doors and windows, damaged steps and handrails, accumulated trash and debris, unsecured pools, graffiti, and even dead animals decaying in yards.
In New Orleans, Plaintiffs investigated 33 Bank of America-owned homes and found that 59% of properties in neighborhoods of color had 10 or more marketing or maintenance deficiencies, while none of the REO properties in white neighborhoods had 10 or more marketing or maintenance deficiencies. 77% of properties in neighborhoods of color also had substantial amounts of trash or debris, while only 27% of properties in predominantly white neighborhoods had the same problem.
The Bank of America-owned properties in Baton Rouge followed a similar pattern: 50% of properties in neighborhoods of color had 10 or more marketing or maintenance deficiencies, while only 13% of the REO properties in white neighborhoods had 10 or more marketing or maintenance deficiencies. Additionally, 61% of the properties in neighborhoods of color had substantial amounts of trash or debris on the premises, while only 13% of the REO properties in predominantly white neighborhoods had the same problem.
The lawsuit is the result of a multi-year investigation undertaken by NFHA, GNOFHAC, and its other fair housing agency partners. In June 2009, NFHA notified Bank of America of maintenance problems that appeared to violate the Fair Housing Act. NFHA met with Bank of America officials for more than a year and offered recommendations to ensure proper treatment of its homes in communities of color. However, after seeing no improvement in routine exterior maintenance of Bank of America-owned homes in communities of color, NFHA began a multi-year, multi-city systemic investigation. “Bank of America was put on notice multiple times since 2009, including the filing of a HUD housing discrimination complaint against it and publication of three reports documenting the nationwide problem of poor maintenance of bank-owned homes in communities of color,” said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of NFHA.
“Bank of America has shown that it can adequately maintain real estate in the white communities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, so it is only fair that homes in African American communities in those cities are maintained just as well,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “No one deserves to live next to an unsafe, unsightly structure, especially when its owner is a multi-national corporation that refuses to do simple maintenance.”
The full complaint is available here and here. The map of all cities included in the investigation and selected photos of the properties is available here. The plaintiffs are represented by Brown, Goldsten & Levy, LLP.