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Housing discrimination is alleged

Times Staff Writer

Owners of a Garden Grove apartment complex used a renovation project to evict Latinos and attract Vietnamese tenants, according to a federal investigation released Friday.

Six Latinos filed complaints earlier this year with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging that landlords Gary Luke and Mary Ngo discriminated against Latinos who wanted to rent units in two adjacent apartment buildings in the 13000 block of Adland Street.

The federal investigation found that when Luke and Ngo bought the apartment complex in July 2005, six units were occupied by Latinos and two by Vietnamese renters. By January 2006, all eight units were rented to Vietnamese tenants.

In one claim, Maria del Carmen Maldonado, who had moved out in December because of the renovations, said she discussed with Luke the possibility of renting another apartment in the complex.

She said Luke told her, “My partner [Mary Ngo] has in mind only to rent to Vietnamese families.”

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In the complaint documents, Luke and Ngo denied that they discriminated against Latinos. An attorney for Luke and Ngo couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

Ngo owns another eight-unit apartment complex in Garden Grove occupied only by Vietnamese tenants, according to the federal complaint.

Housing discrimination charges carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for each violation.

The former tenants could also file a civil action against the apartment owners.

In response, Luke said that “no one expressed interest” in returning to the apartments after the renovations were made.

“At no time did anyone request a rental application then, during, or after the repair of both buildings,” Luke was quoted in the complaint as saying.

Laura Castaneda, a former tenant, said in her claim that she and her husband continually asked to move back into the apartment after renovations were completed, even offering to pay more rent, but Luke responded, “No, I already got my people.

“Don’t think it’s because you’re Mexican; I used to have a Mexican girlfriend.”

In March, the Fair Housing Council of Orange County, which helped the former tenants file complaints, conducted its own investigation.

“We ... interviewed two former Vietnamese tenants that moved out prior to the 60-day notice for renovations,” said Sonia Caicedo, enforcement investigator for the council. “They were begged to stay by the property owners but instead decided to rent a house.”

Fair Housing Council officials said discrimination was not unusual, though it was rarely reported.

“It does occur,” said Connie der Torossian, a spokeswoman for the council. “People are usually not willing to come forward, or they don’t know their rights.

“Once [the tenants] started to talk to each other, they realized they were refused because of their origin,” she said.

The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlaws discrimination “based on race, color, religion, or national origin.”

Since then, it has been amended to protect against discrimination based on sex, families with children, or those with a handicap or disability.

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com


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