Judgment obtained against Mass. landlord

Nick Rees Apr. 22, 2010, 6:33pm

TAUNTON, Mass. (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has obtained a judgment against a Fall River landlord and his tenant for allegedly posting discriminatory rental advertisements on Craigslist.org.

Bristol Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane signed the judgment against landlord George Cote and tenant Harriet Witkington on April 16. The judgment provides a broad range of relief and preventive measures ensuring future compliance with state and federal fair housing laws.

"Landlords and real estate professionals, and anyone acting on their behalf, must recognize that the rental market is a regulated industry and compliance with our anti-discrimination laws is an important obligation," Coakley said.

"While we hope that this enforcement initiative will have a deterrent effect, our office will continue to monitor Craigslist and take action against landlords and real estate professionals who violate the law."

According to the complaint, Witkington, acting on Cote's behalf, placed an advertisement on Craigslist in May for a unit for rent in Fall River.

The advertisement stated "no Section 9." Discriminating against people using state or federal housing subsidies to pay for all or a portion of their rent by real estate companies, agent, landlords or others involved in property rentals is prohibited by the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act.

Cote and Witkington are required by the judgment to attend training on state and federal fair housing laws. They are also prohibited by the judgment from placing discriminatory advertisements or otherwise discriminating against any person seeking or applying for housing because they are a member of a protected class.

The judgment comes as part of an ongoing statewide investigation into reports of widespread discriminatory Internet advertising. Twenty settlements were reached by Coakley's office in October and six complaints were filed against landlords and real estate agents statewide accusing them of violating state anti-discrimination laws on Craigslist.

A similar case was recently resolved by Coakley's office against a Hyde Park landlord who allegedly posted discriminatory statements on Craigslist. Linheart Smith was ordered to attend training to ensure future compliance with state and federal fair housing laws and required to pay a $3,000 civil penalty to the Local Consumer Aid Fund.

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