Civil Rights Groups Sue Bank of America for Violating the Fair Housing Act

Civil rights groups are coming together to bring a lawsuit against Bank of America (BofA) and Safeguard Properties Management. They claim that Safeguard and BofA violated the Fair Housing Act.

The National Fair Housing Alliance and two homeowners from Maryland filed a lawsuit against the two companies. The 19 groups that make up the Alliance claim the two companies failed to provide routine exterior maintenance for Bank of America-owned homes in minority neighborhoods across 37 metro areas. They also claim BofA and Safeguard failed to market the properties.

The National Fair Housing Alliance compared the properties with mostly white neighborhoods. The Alliance alleges BofA consistently maintained its homes in predominately white neighborhoods

The groups say they found shocking evidence of wildly overgrown grass and weeds which is the least of the problems. The groups also found unsecured doors and windows and trash. The most shocking discoveries were the unsecured pools, graffiti and dead animals decaying in the yards.

By contrast, the lawsuit alleges homes in the white suburbs are far more likely to have the lawns mowed and edged regularly. The bank also secured or repaired the properties. They also removed debris from the property. Most of all, they removed any graffiti.

BofA took possession of these homes after it foreclosed and became the owner of record. The bank is responsible for routine exterior maintenance on all of its properties.

The Alliance claims it first made BofA aware of these problems almost a decade ago. They even offered recommendations for improvement. Yet no such improvements were made.

Caroline Peattie, Executive Director of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, stated, “Bank of America should have taken meaningful steps toward fixing these problems after being put on notice but failed to do so. For example, Bank of America boarded windows in communities of color rather than installing clear boarding or fixing the windows. Boarded windows carry a stigma and imply the neighborhood is not safe or desirable.”

Two homeowners from Maryland also joined the lawsuit. Wanda Onafuwa and Chevelle Bushnell described revealed their experiences living next to these Bank of America-owned homes. They told stories of rat infestations and the devaluation of their property due to the appearance of the next-door homes. They also told of drug addicts squatting in abandoned properties over the course of several months.

An investigation on 1,600 homes showed that 45% of the bank’s properties in communities of color had 10 or more maintenance or marketing deficiencies. This compared with just 11% of the bank’s homes in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The investigation shows 64% of the bank’s homes in communities of color had trash or debris visible on the property. This compared with 31% in predominantly white neighborhoods. About 37% of homes in color communities were unsecured compared with just 16% in white neighborhoods.

The Alliance also found 49.6% of properties had damaged, boarded or unsecured windows in color communities, compared with 23.5% under the same conditions in white neighborhoods.