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Building owners settle bias suit

Times Staff Writer

The owners and managers of a Stanton apartment complex that fined families $50 and threatened them with eviction notices when their children played outside agreed Friday to pay $618,000 to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit.

In the class-action suit, nine families alleged that Plaza Patria Court Ltd., the owner of the Plaza Court Apartments, targeted families by fining them if their children were outside unsupervised, playing on the grass or taking out the trash. Also named in the suit were JDC Management Co. and former on-site manager Catherine Gomez.

Plaza Patria Court has received loans from the Stanton Redevelopment Agency as part of a plan to rehabilitate the complex. Families at the 104-unit low-income building said they paid managers hundreds of dollars in fines and late fees even though those payments were not allowed under their leases.

A memo Gomez sent to tenants in 2001 read, “Children are not allowed to be outside alone, ever. If I find out or I see them outside you will receive 1 warning, then you will be asked to leave,” according to the suit.

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After residents complained in 2002, the nonprofit Fair Housing Council of Orange County launched a two-year investigation. The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed suit in 2005.

Connie Der Torossian, the Fair Housing Council’s marketing director, said it was important to change the apartment manager’s policies because they were displacing many families with children.

“They didn’t even want to go outside because they were in fear that they would end up losing their housing if they weren’t able to pay the fines,” she said. “Affordable housing is a difficult thing to find, so the on-site manager really had them between a rock and a hard place.”

Although the managers and owners admit no wrongdoing by paying the settlement, they agreed to change rules and policies to comply with fair housing laws, provide informational pamphlets and offer employee training about fair housing. The apartment owners and managers and their attorneys could not be reached for comment late Friday.

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The settlement is one of the county’s largest payouts for a housing discrimination case involving families with children, and it is not the first to involve allegations of landlords restricting children from playing.

In 2006, Laguna Hills-based Bertram Management agreed to settle a similar lawsuit for $125,000 after managers fined tenants $25 when their children stepped on the grass or played in common areas of a Garden Grove apartment complex.

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

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