Woman sues housing complex after she was denied lease renewal on an apartment for not providing proof of pregnancy
Tiesha Davis, 26, claims the Miramar apartment complex would not renew her lease because she didn't provide an ultrasound image while pregnant.
A single mother of three was told by her landlord that he was not going to renew her lease as she didn't provide him with an ultrasound image of the child she was carrying. Tiesha Davis thought she had finally found a suitable apartment for her young family, but things turned out in a way she did not anticipate in her wildest nightmare, reported The Sun Sentinel.
Davis was four months pregnant when she signed her rental agreement on September 26, 2017.
On January 11, about four months later, the assistant property manager at Sorrento Rental Community in Miramar, Jose Galindo, told the 26-year-old that he was not going to renew her 12-month lease agreement as she had not disclosed her pregnancy to the agency or given an ultrasound photo. The project was financed by tax dollars in part, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on April 3.
According to the lawsuit, Galindo should have known that Davis was pregnant when they first interacted in September, last year.
The suit says, "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."
According to the complaint, however, Galindo asked Davis if she was pregnant in January after an inspection of her apartment revealed baby goods in her closet. Monthly pest control visits to her apartment also corroborated to Galindo's claims.
The suit further alleges 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."
That being said, Davis asserts that she never hid her condition. In her lawsuit, she is joined by Akia Wiggins-Shabazz, a tester for Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence (HOPE) who was informed in March that Davis would have to provide an ultrasound of her unborn baby if she wanted to rent a house. HOPE is a non-profit corporation established in 1988 to fight against housing discrimination in Florida.
Both Davis and Wiggins-Shabazz are women of color. HOPE conducted an independent probe into the Sorrento business by assigning two testers who posed as pregnant women to apply for a lease with them. They also targeted a sister property called Monterra, in Cooper City in December. Of the two testers, one was of African American origin and the other came from white, Hispanic descent.
The investigation revealed that both were denied units, allegedly unavailable, but instead were given a list of requirements that they would have to meet in order to qualify as tenants. The requirements included child support information, proof of income, presentation of driver's license, Social Security card and revealing how many people would be living in the apartment.
The company informed the African American tester of situations that could result in a denial of accommodation. These included having a history of foreclosures, short sales or evictions and also being a current homeowner. Also, in an instance that some critics might call "racial profiling", she was also asked about any previous arrests.
On the other hand, the Hispanic poser was not asked about prior arrests or told of any rules about tenancy, the sting revealed. Also, there was nothing mentioned about pregnancy tests or mention of unborn children.
Having established the prevalent bias, HOPE sent Wiggins-Shabazz to Sorrento as a young black mother like Davis to determine whether a doctor's note for unborn children and an ultrasound to prove the same was a policy of ZRS management - a company doing business as Sorrento in Miramar. Wiggins-Shabazz posed as a pregnant woman and the mother of a 5-year-old.
The African American woman was asked the same - a doctor's note officiating the pregnancy and an ultrasound picture to back it up. Wiggins-Shabazz was told the same when she visited Monterra on March 19.
The lawsuit, submitted by attorney Matthew Dietz, asserts that 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." It further states that "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."
Keenya Robertson, president and CEO of HOPE, told WPLG: "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. 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."
While the suit urges the court to determine whether ZRS Management violated the Fair Housing Amendments Act, it also asks for appropriate compensation towards Davis in punitive damages "to compensate for the humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress" the defendants' actions caused her.
During a conversation with WPLG Local 10 News, which first broadcast Davis' predicament earlier this month, she said, "Every day I'm looking for apartments. I can't focus on my job. I can't focus on my children."
As of the moment, Sorrento has not publicly responded to the said lawsuit.