HUD: Tallassee couple forced to move after black neighbors visit

TALLASSEE, AL (WSFA) - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has charged two Tallassee landlords with violations of the Fair Housing Act after they allegedly forced a white couple to move from a rented home because they were talking to a black couple in their front yard.

"It is astounding that 40 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act there are still people who would try to police people's associations," said Kim Kendrick, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, in a press release.

The ordeal started in February when Wilber and Julie Williams rented a home on Gilmer Avenue to Melissa Jones and her family.

According to charges filed by HUD the incident started three months later when the Jones' neighbors, who are African-American, stopped by for a visit and were seen by the landlords as they drove past the property.

Jones told HUD authorities that Ms. Williams later called demanding, "Those people need to leave. I don't want them on my property."

One week later Ms. Williams is alleged to have called the renters again and her phone conversation was recorded. According to HUD the phone transcript included statements by Mrs. Williams stating, "If y'all want to have African-Americans to visit, we're going to ask you to move...this has never happened with any renters that we've had...It's not fine on our property."

The charges allege that when Jones told her landlord that she had family members who were of mixed ethnic background she was told to "go ahead and move before the rent's due for July."

Melissa Jones told HUD authorities that Mrs. Williams called again in July to pressure her into moving. "You should live in the projects if you want to interact with those people," Mrs. Williams allegedly told her tenant. "I will sell the house if I have to in order to get you out. I don't care if you made a complaint to HUD, you have to move."

When Jones told her landlord that she didn't want to raise a racist child, she says the reply she received was "Well, you should."

The couple moved from the property at the first of September and filed a complaint with the housing agency.

The case will be heard by a United State Administrative Law Judge unless the Williamses request it be heard in federal district court.

If a U.S. Admin. Law judge finds the defendants guilty he can award damages for actual loss, emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of civil rights. He can also add civil penalties.

A federal district court judge can also award punitive damages if the defendants are found guilty.