A collection of fair housing advocates led by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) filed a federal lawsuit against Bank of America and Safeguard Properties Management on Tuesday that alleges the company has failed to conduct routine maintenance on foreclosed homes in neighborhoods across the country that were predominantly African-American or Latino.
The NFHA claims to have investigated 1,600 homes owned by Bank of America in 37 different U.S. metropolitan areas where dilapidated conditions imposed hardship on neighboring homeowners. The investigation has been underway since June 2009, when the NFHA notified Bank of America of the issues, which the organization claims are in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Among the concerns raised by the suit are uncovered pools that were allowed to fester, rotting dead animals in yards, trash and debris that went uncollected, damage to the steps and handrails of the properties, graffiti, and “wildly” overgrown grass and weeds.
In some cases, the suit alleges, the properties were so unkempt that they looked abandoned and thus attracted squatters. One of the plaintiffs in the suit says their home was targeted by thieves who were squatting in a neighboring home owned by Bank of America. Other said a rat infestation in a Bank of America-owned home made its way to her home, causing damage.
These issues weren’t found in the NFHA’s investigation of predominantly white neighborhoods where Bank of America owned foreclosed homes. According to the NFHA, 45 percent of properties in communities of color had 10 or more maintenance issues, compared to just 11 percent in white neighborhoods. The NFHA survey also found that trash and debris were present in 64 percent of properties in communities of color, compared to 31 percent in white neighborhoods.
In addition to data, the lawsuit includes more than 35,000 photos that the NFHA claims document the aforementioned issues.
“Bank of America and Safeguard’s deplorable and intentional inaction left innocent homeowners exposed to numerous health hazards and personal risks,” NFHA president and CEO Lisa Rice said in a statement. “No one should have to live like this due to Bank of America’s failure to maintain its own properties. NFHA and the co-plaintiffs filed this lawsuit to make sure that these discriminatory practices come to an end and that perpetrators like Bank of America are held responsible for their unjust policies and practices.”
Founded in 1988, the NFHA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing, and it often champions the Fair Housing Act in court. The group sued Ben Carson and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in May over Carson’s decision to delay an Obama-era anti-segregation rule.
“Safeguard has yet to be served with the complaint,” Safeguard said in a statement about the lawsuit. “Safeguard neither condones nor tolerates acts of discrimination or business practices that would unfairly target or neglect certain neighborhoods based on location and demographics. Safeguard remains disappointed by the National Fair Housing Alliance’s (NFHA) continued attack on Safeguard with ill-conceived and disingenuous allegations of an extremely serious nature, and we will again vigorously defend against any and all of NFHA’s allegations.”
Bank of America could not be reached for comment.
Here are some of the photos the NFHA has provided as evidence: