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L.A. housing discrimination suit settled for $450,000

Civil rights attorneys have announced that they have won the largest settlement of a housing discrimination case in U.S. history _ $450,000 against the owners of an apartment building they said excluded blacks. "We hope the amount of the settlement in this case will show apartment managers and owners in the L.A. area and throughout the country that blatant race discrimination is not only illegal and morally intolerable _ from now on, it will also be extremely costly," Patrick O. Patterson, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said Monday.

Patterson's organization and the Westside Fair Housing Council filed the lawsuit more than two years ago.

The suit named Westchester Investment Co., which owns the Belford Park Apartments in the city's Westchester district, and Gutweiler-Wooley Properties, the property's former management company.

The lawsuit, settled Friday, charged that officials for the two companies instructed the on-site managers to maintain a low number of black renters at Belford Park Apartments.

As a result, only 2 percent of the renters in the building were black in a neighborhood where 20 percent of the residents were black, Patterson said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Robert Beaumont, a white renter in the building at the time, and Allan Lopez, a black airline worker who attempted to get the landlord's permission to become Beaumont's roommate.

Lopez was required by the couple who managed the building to fill out a renter's application, although many white renters did not have to fill out such applications, according to Patterson.

Eventually, Lopez's application was rejected because of his "credit history" although a number of white renters had significantly worse credit ratings, Patterson said.

Beaumont contacted the Westside Fair Housing Council, which sent two white men and a black woman to the building, posing as prospective tenants. Within the space of an hour, the black tester was told there were no vacancies and the white testers, sent before and after her, were told apartments were available.

"It's opened my eyes," Beaumont said at a press conference Monday. "Being white living in Los Angeles, I wasn't aware of the degree this is still going on in the city."

Representatives of the Westchester Investment Company did not return telephone calls Monday, but Patterson said the firm has agreed, as part of the settlement, to open the apartment building to more blacks.

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