Last summer, Nicole Michelbach and Brian Garcia learned they were going to have a baby.But when they gave their landlords the news, court documents say Michelbach and Garcia were told they had to leave their apartment within 30 days.The couple’s lease stated no more than two people could stay in a one-bedroom apartment. With a baby on the way, that made three under one roof. The complaint alleges the couple was evicted because the fetus counted as another tenant.Michelbach and Garcia filed a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The department receives 10,500 complaints a year from renters and homeowners who feel they’ve been discriminated against. HUD took the case and filed charges against landlords Armando and Eralia Chavez and their son, property manager Michael Chavez.Bryan Greene, general deputy assistant secretary in HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office, says Michelbach and Garcia got a raw deal. According to Greene, the Federal Fair Housing Act prevents landlords from discriminating against people because of their family status. Greene says that’s exactly what these landlords did. “To discriminate against a family with children or a family expecting children has been against the law for 20 years now,” Greene says.Armando and Eralia Chavez declined to comment and Michael Chavez did not return calls from the Alibi .The case will go before a HUD administrative law judge within the next three months. A settlement might be reached before then. If either side disagrees with the ruling made by the HUD judge, they can appeal the decision in federal court.Rich Weiner, fair housing coordinator with the Albuquerque Human Rights Office, says this kind of discrimination happens because landlords don’t know the laws. “Most people know that it’s illegal to discriminate based on race, gender, national origin or religion,” Weiner says. “A lot of people don’t know about family-status discrimination.” Greene says two studies conducted by HUD show the majority of Americans are unaware prejudice toward families is against the law. Greene says he hopes Michelbach and Garcia’s case can help educate the public on housing discrimination. “When people read about it, they learn that if they’re a landlord, they can’t do this,” Greene says. “If they’re a home-seeker, they may discover that something like this happened to them, and there’s a course of action they can take.”
HUD investigates every complaint it receives. If you think your rights have been violated, call (800) 669-9777 or visit hud.gov/fairhousing. The Albuquerque Human Rights Office offers classes on tenant rights and discrimination laws. For more information or to submit a housing complaint, call 924-3380.