BOSTON — A Braintree-based national property management company has agreed to pay $25,000, train its employees, and implement new fair housing policies and procedures to settle allegations that the company’s staff denied prospective tenants who were deaf or hard of hearing access to housing at a Springfield apartment complex, Attorney General Maura Healey announced.
The consent judgment, filed in Hampden Superior Court, settles allegations that Peabody Properties, Inc. violated the state’s fair housing and consumer protection laws when staff at Pynchon/Edgewater, a 612-unit apartment complex in Springfield managed by the company, categorically refused to consider requests for the assistance of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to help prospective tenants who were deaf complete a rental application. This case is part of AG Healey’s ongoing efforts to address widespread housing discrimination that disproportionately impacts residents who are disabled, Black, Latinx, and low-income.
“People with disabilities often face serious barriers to accessing safe and affordable housing, and refusal to provide reasonable accommodations to those in need further exacerbates this problem,” AG Healey said. “This company wouldn’t even engage with deaf tenants who were seeking housing – let alone provide them with the assistance they needed to complete a rental application. My office is committed to ensuring fair and equal access to housing for all Massachusetts residents.”
The case was referred to the AG’s Office after the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) investigated a complaint filed by the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (MFHC) and found probable cause that Peabody Properties had discriminated against prospective tenants because of their disability by refusing to even discuss requests for interpretation services that would allow them to fill out a rental application.
According to the AG’s complaint, MFHC’s housing testers conducted two audits of the housing market in western Massachusetts in 2016 and 2018 after receiving reports that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing were facing obstacles in obtaining housing in the region, at least in part due to communication barriers. During both of these audits, staff at Pynchon/Edgewater told testers that the company did not provide ASL interpreters to deaf prospective tenants who requested one as a reasonable accommodation. MFHC then conducted a third test in February 2019 to compare the contemporaneous experience of a tester with hearing to that of a tester who is deaf requesting an ASL interpreter. The tester with hearing was treated respectfully and encouraged to apply for housing. In contrast, office staff told the deaf tester that there were no available apartments and the waiting list was a year-long, and then abruptly hung up on the tester. When the tester called back, office staff stated that ASL interpreters are only available to current tenants. In total, the deaf tester called Pynchon/Edgewater three times and was never helped with an accommodation.
Under the state’s fair housing law, it is illegal for a managing agent of a housing complex to discriminate against an individual based on the fact that they have a disability. Furthermore, it is discriminatory to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, or procedures, when the accommodations may be needed to afford a disabled individual equal access to housing. The AG’s Office also alleges that Peabody committed unfair business practices in violation of the state’s consumer protection law by having a policy and practice of categorically refusing ASL interpreters to prospective tenants who are deaf and refusing to even engage in an interactive dialogue with these individuals despite its long-standing and well-known obligation to do so.
Under the terms of the consent judgment, Peabody is required to have its employees attend fair housing training as well as training conducted by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; to include fair housing language in its listings and advertisements; to post a sign regarding the right to an interpreter at each property it manages; and to appoint an employee at each of its properties who is responsible for coordinating requests for interpreters and reasonable accommodations. Peabody must also adopt an Auxiliary Aids and Services Plan that specifically addresses the provision of interpreters to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The settlement also requires Peabody to pay $25,000 with $20,000 going to MFHC and $5,000 to the state.
In August, AG Healey announced her office had reached settlements with several South Shore real estate brokers and agents after a year-long investigation by the office into claims they had discriminated against a low-income prospective tenant and her two disabled children based on the family’s receipt of public assistance.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office is committed to enforcing the state’s antidiscrimination laws and encourages those who have concerns about housing discrimination to call the office’s Civil Rights Division at 617-963-2917 or to file a complaint online.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Ann Lynch, of AG Healey’s Civil Rights and Western Massachusetts Divisions.