Busted on Craigslist...
We are seeing an increasing number of complaints and lawsuits linked to the rental listings on the ever-popular Craigslist. The question is how many of these complaints and lawsuits are justifiable as eliminating real discrimination and how many of these are being filed by those organizations and attorneys who are simply trolling Craigslist seeking quick and easy bucks?
Like the immunity granted to newspapers for their classified advertisements, the courts have reaffirmed Craigslist's immunity in publishing offending listings.
Which leaves the individual advertiser at the mercy of those trolling the listings.
The latest egregious case comes from affluent Orange County and a rental of a small apartment on posh Balboa Island.
From the Orange County Register...
"Unfair fight? State and local housing councils act as prosecutor, judge and jury against perceived discrimination. Critics see a conflict of interest."
"A few little words could cost Dan Bader a fortune."
"In 2006, Bader advertised an apartment for rent on Craigslist. He wanted $1,950 a month for the adjoining 480-square foot unit in back of his Newport Beach home. As an afterthought, he added, 'Well suited for professional adults' and 'Perfect for 1 or 2 professionals.'"
"That fall, the state notified Bader that the Fair Housing Council of Orange County had filed a complaint against him for "possible discrimination" against people with children. That was a surprise because he says previous tenants had children. Bader eventually agreed to a meeting."
Combined, judge, jury and executioner...
"But when Bader arrived at the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing office in Los Angeles, he says he found a surprise: The council wasn't represented. Only bureaucrats were there."
Pay up or else...
After an apparent expensive investigation; which featured a process server coming from Los Angeles to Orange County to personally serve the complaint, the review of numerous documents painstakingly provided by Bader, the embarrassing contacting of old tenants and neighbors, Bader's actions were judged to be non-discriminatory.
"Bader says two state employees told him the state had determined he does not discriminate, but the ads were still a problem. He says they told him the complaint would be dropped if he paid the council $4,000 for expenses and agreed to take five years of the council's landlord classes at an additional cost."
What could you possibly learn about discrimination that takes five years, especially since you could earn a college law degree in that time? Sounds like a money-making racket to me. An 8-hour course, like that given to traffic offenders, seems about right. And there is no guarantee that any educational efforts will make a difference as traffic offenders may simply rush home after class -- right through a red light.
Perhaps, the real sentence should be a course of psycho-therapy to cure the real or imagined bigotry which may or may not exist. Given to the housing council's operators!
Extortion: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be ... a duck!
Extortion... is a criminal offense, which occurs when a person either unlawfully obtains money, property or services from a person, entity, or institution through coercion or intimidation or threatens a person, entity, or institution with physical or reputational harm unless he is paid money or property.
"Bader thought that sounded like extortion, so he refused to settle. In November, the state slapped him with a housing discrimination lawsuit seeking 'unlimited" damages on behalf of the council. The case is still pending."
Fair housing law...
Welcome to the weird world of fair housing enforcement. While the above proceedings might appear unfair, my research indicates they actually illustrate how the process is supposed to work. The law provides special rights for groups like the fair housing council. The Fair Housing Council of Orange County and others insist they act ethically. Critics disagree.
"There's an imbalance of power," said Los Angeles attorney Stephen C. Johnson, who's been involved in several cases similar to Bader's."
"'Fair housing groups are charged with enforcing the law, but they can also seek money from the people they bust. Johnson said there's nothing to stop them from abusing their power. Time after time, he said, he's seen these groups use their legal privileges to squeeze landlords.'"
"'They're not regulated,' he said, adding that government isn't likely to pull their funding. "
Legal vigilantes funded by public money...
"You read that right: Fair housing councils are funded primarily by your tax dollars. So, in Bader's case, his money not only pays for the state's lawsuit against him, it also funds for the agency accusing him. "
"For more information on this bizarre world, I turned to Shanna Smith, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Fair Housing Alliance, the umbrella organization for nonprofit enforcement groups."
Smith told me the first of these organizations were founded in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, but many more were added in the 1980s when the federal government began offering grants for fair housing enforcement. Today, she said, there are roughly 75 such nonprofits nationwide."
"On my own, I found that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development gave $6.5 million to eight California organizations from 2004 to 2007. Orange County's group received three grants for a total of $443,800. "
"Most of the fair housing groups are in California, Chicago and Ohio," Smith said.
Finding their own plaintiffs and making their own cases...
"Most fair housing centers don't wait for consumers to walk through the door because most consumers don't recognize discrimination because it's very, very subtle," Smith said. The only way to find it is through research."
Profitable work for a non-profit publicly-funded organization...
"For this trouble, the courts have granted nonprofits a special perk, Smith said. Courts allow them to seek money from accused landlords to cover the cost of their investigations and to re-educate people about the law. That explains why Bader was asked for $4,000."
"Bader, for his part, appears madder at the council and said recent legal actions suggest the nonprofit was trying to shake him down."
Not all is well within the council...
"The council's board is suing its CEO, D. Elizabeth Pierson, for allegedly interfering with a misuse of funds probe. And that probe, among other things, is looking into allegations that grant money was directed to fill other financial gaps in the agency."
Criminal intent, motive?
"My conjecture is they needed money, so let's just start filing complaints," Bader said."
"I asked Pierson to comment on Bader's case, but she said she couldn't go into specifics because the case was pending. In an e-mail, however, she wrote that Bader's accusations "lack any basis in fact. Certainly DFEH would not participate in that sort of unethical conduct and I would never condone it."
"Strong words – but even weak ones can cost you."
Time for legal action by the State of California...
California has taken action in the past to prevent such egregious abuses of the law by quick-buck attorneys...
From the California Bar Journal...
Trevor Law Group...
"The Trevor Group sued thousands of restaurant and auto repair shop owners, many of them minorities, for minor violations that were posted on the web sites of regulatory agencies. They denied doing anything illegal and justified their actions as legitimate consumer protection."
"Three Beverly Hills attorneys who faced possible disbarment as a result of using allegedly extortionate tactics in suing thousands of small business owners under the Unfair Competition Law resigned from the State Bar last month."
"The actions of the three lawyers, who were charged with 36 counts of professional misconduct in June and whose licenses already had been lifted by the bar in May, drew widespread attention to the Unfair Competition Law, also known as section 17200 of the Business & Professions Code."
"Their activities led to a lawsuit by Attorney General Bill Lockyer as well as legislative hearings to reform the law."
Brar & Gamulin...
"Lockyer sued Long Beach attorney Harpreet Brar and his law firm, Brar & Gamulin, last month, charging similar abuses of section 17200."
" The attorney general alleged that Brar and his firm committed illegal business practices in suing hundreds of nail salons solely to obtain nuisance settlements and attorney fees. He filed the complaint under §17200, the same statute he used to sue the Trevor Group and the same statute the Trevor lawyers and Brar used to sue small businesses."
Truth be told...
"The lawsuits filed by Brar and the other defendants were shams," said Lockyer. ". . . Their only interest was in lining their pockets with easy money. Brar & Gamulin is not so much a law firm as a quick-buck racket that has inflicted financial harm on law-abiding small business owners."
What can YOU do?
Recognize that the misuse of the legal process is not limited only to money-hungry attorneys acting on their own, but can easily include numerous cash-starved organizations who will grasp at any opportunity to raise additional funds.
The implementation of Red-light cameras and stop signs is a good example of making citizens wrong for the purpose of generating revenue.
As with these housing agencies, the quest for dollars has moved far beyond enforcing the public's safety and welfare (or insuring fair and equitable rental practices) into the realm of ensnaring innocent victims which may be trapped by circumstances.
In using red light cameras and stop sign devices, one can hardly argue with the prima facie case that can be made for public safety. But what about the motorist that chooses to safely cross the intersection as an alternative to slamming on the brakes and potentially injuring themselves and their passengers or causing an even more serious, life-threatening, rear-end collision? Even in these instances, you must spend additional time, effort and money defending yourself.
But that does not seem to keep certain municipalities and other quasi-governmental bodies from entering into deals with red-light equipment vendors to equip intersections which may have a high probability for transgression, but no serious accidents or fatalities. So the fiction of safety is papered-over in the quest for additional revenue. And the insurance companies are ecstatic as they simply increase their premiums for every ticket issue. The only person screwed is the consumer.
Exert your rights as a taxpayer and demand that these type of rogue organizations be curtailed and that attorneys who have acted in an egregious manner either surrender their license to practice law or face trial. (How's that for extortionate karma?)
Do not vote for any candidate or current politician who is willing to subvert the safety, security, sovereignty and economic strength of the United States or limit an individual's right of self-defense for their personal philosophy, power, prestige or profits.
Quote of the Day: "Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins." --Ralph Waldo Emerson
A reminder from OneCitizenSpeaking.com: a large improvement can result from a small change…
The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. -- Marcus Aurelius