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Tiesha Davis, a single, working mom of three, thought she had found a suitable apartment for her young family. But the home turned into a major stress test when her landlord told her he wasn’t going to renew her lease.
The reason: She didn’t provide her landlord with an ultrasound image of the child she was carrying.
She signed her rental agreement on Sept. 26, 2017. She was four months pregnant at the time.
About four months later, on Jan. 11, Jose Galindo, the assistant property manager at Sorrento Rental Community in Miramar, a privately owned affordable housing complex, told Davis, 26, he wasn’t going to renew her 12-month lease because she hadn’t disclosed her pregnancy or provided an ultrasound photo, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on April 3. The project was financed, in part, by tax dollars.
The suit alleges that Galindo had to know Davis was pregnant when they first met in September.
“During such time Ms. Davis was noticeably pregnant, to the extent that Mr. Galindo insisted that she sit in the front seat of the golf cart when he was driving her through the property,” the suit says. But in January, according to the complaint, Galindo asked Davis if she was pregnant, after monthly pest control visits and an inspection of her apartment turned up baby goods in her closet.
Galindo, the suit alleges, stated that Davis should have let them know that she was pregnant in her application, that she had to check a box, and that she was required to show them a letter from her doctor and an ultrasound at the time of the tenancy.”
Davis said she never hid her pregnancy. She is joined in the suit alongside plaintiffs Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence (HOPE), a Florida not-for-profit corporation established in 1988 to fight against housing discrimination, and Akia Wiggins-Shabazz, a tester for HOPE who was told in March by a Sorrento leasing agent that she would need to provide an ultrasound of her unborn baby if she wanted to rent an apartment, according to the suit.
Wiggins-Shabazz and Davis are African American. HOPE assigned two testers posing as pregnant women to apply for a lease at Sorrento and a sister property, Monterra, in Cooper City in December — a white, Hispanic woman and an African American woman.
According to the suit, both were told there were not units available but were given a list of requirements they would have to meet to qualify as renters. Among the requirements: revealing how many people would be living in the apartment, child support information, proof of income, and presentation of driver’s license and Social Security card.
The African American tester was asked about arrests and was told of situations that could result in a denial of tenancy — which included being a current homeowner, and having a history of foreclosures, short sales or evictions.
The Hispanic tester was not asked about arrests or told of the same denials of tenancy, according to the suit.
There was nothing said about tests regarding pregnancy or unborn children.
HOPE then sent Wiggins-Shabazz, also, like Davis, a young black mother, to Sorrento to determine whether the ultrasound and a doctor’s note for unborn children was a policy and practice of ZRS Management, which does business as Sorrento at Miramar. She had posed as a pregnant woman and the mother of a 5-year-old.
When told of the materials she’d need to apply for an apartment, Wiggins-Shabazz was asked to provide a doctor’s note verifying pregnancy and an ultrasound picture. She was told the same at Monterra when she was sent there by HOPE on March 19.
Also named as defendants in Davis’ suit: ZOM Foxcroft, which does business as Sorrento at Miramar and owns a 320-unit multi-family development in Miramar; and ZOM Monterra, which does business as Monterra Apartments. Monterra and Sorrento are operated by ZRS Management.
The “defendants’ actions described above constitute a pattern, practice, and policy of housing discrimination on the basis of familial status, sex, pregnancy, race and national origin,” the suit, submitted by attorney Matthew Dietz, contends. “In engaging in such activities, defendants have acted intentionally or recklessly violated plaintiffs’ civil rights and damaged the rights and feelings of plaintiffs Davis and Wiggins-Shabazz.”
The suit asks the court to determine that ZRS Management violated the Fair Housing Amendments Act and demands that the rental company must not discriminate against Davis or Wiggins-Shabazz or any other person because of their sex or familial status. The suit also asks for appropriate compensatory and punitive damages for Davis “to compensate for the humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress” the defendants’ actions caused.
“Every day I’m looking for apartments. I can’t focus on my job. I can’t focus on my children,” Davis told WPLG Local 10 News, which first broadcast her story earlier this month. Representatives from Sorrento have not publicly responded to the lawsuit.
“To ask for a photograph of the inside of a mother’s womb is so intrusive, invasive, it has absolutely no business reason for being in an application for rent,” Keenya Robertson, president and CEO of HOPE, told WPLG.
“You’re denying housing to those people who this housing was intended to benefit,” Robertson added. “You’re not doing what it is you said you’d do when you took our tax dollars to make this housing available.”