African-American Family Sues Multi-State Rental Property Owner for Fair Housing Violations

Housing, Racial Justice



Boston, MA (February 17, 2016) — An African-American family filed a federal fair housing lawsuit against a multi-state real estate company, asserting that the company forced them from their rental home of 8 years after they sought help to end a vicious racial harassment campaign carried out by a neighboring tenant.

The complaint alleges that Home Properties, Inc., a New York-based company that operates over 30,000 rental properties across the East Coast, failed to respond and then improperly refused to renew the family’s lease when they complained about a campaign of racial harassment carried out by a neighboring tenant, Michael O’Brien.  The neighbor’s harassment, as set forth in the complaint, included numerous actions such as yelling “n*****” and other racial slurs at the family on an ongoing basis; calling the young children “monkey babies”; leaving a box of fried chicken at the family’s apartment door; and waking the family up in the middle of the night by banging on the walls and shouting obscenities and racial slurs.

“No family should have to endure what we did,” said plaintiff John Sunda.  “For months, we asked our landlord to help stop this unrelenting campaign of racial harassment.  Instead, they turned around and forced us out of our home of eight years.”  Mr. Sunda noted that the family had lived without incident in the apartment complex, Gardencrest Apartments in Waltham, MA, until the new neighbor moved in early 2015.

“Under federal fair housing law, landlords have a duty to provide tenants with a living environment that is free from racial harassment,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which is representing the African-American family.  “A landlord cannot turn a blind eye to racial harassment or retaliate against tenants for trying to protect their rights under the law.”  In addition to the Lawyers’ Committee, the couple is represented by the law firm Foley Hoag, which is handling the case pro bono.

The complaint alleges that the landlord was notified of the harassment not only by the family, but also by local police, who expressed concern about the family’s continued safety.  According to a police report cited in the complaint, for example, the neighbor admitted to police that he had called Mr. Sunda “a porch monkey and told him to go back to Africa”; the police officer reporting the incident noted that she was “in fear for the residen[t] Mr. Sunda and his children due to the racial slurs Mr. O’Brien continued to use while speaking with me.”

The lawsuit names the management company, Lighthouse Management Services, as an additional defendant. The lawsuit asks for compensatory and punitive damages, and for a court order requiring the defendants to refrain from discriminatory or retaliatory conduct.