The western regional office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund has filed a lawsuit charging the owners and managers of Belford Park Apartments in Westchester with discrimination against black applicants.
The suit is the first filed by the regional office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund since the national group, long known as the legal arm of the civil rights movement, opened an office in downtown Los Angeles last fall.
The suit was filed Tuesday in U. S. District Court on behalf of the Westside Fair Housing Council and three other plaintiffs. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages of at least $100,000 per plaintiff from the Westchester Investment Co., which owns the large apartment complex, and managers Brice and Patricia Duncan of Gutweiler-Woolley Properties.
Representatives of Westchester Investment and the managers of the complex at 8809 Belford Ave. did not return phone calls.
Patrick O. Patterson, an attorney for the Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the suit alleges that blacks who sought to apply for apartments were routinely discriminated against. The legal action stems from a 1987 complaint by Robert J. Beaumont, a white tenant in the complex who agreed to share his two-bedroom apartment with Allan G. Lopez, a black.
When Lopez moved into the complex with his belongings, he was told by the managers that he would not be allowed to stay unless he filled out an application, Patterson said. He submitted an application but it was rejected. Then Beaumont, who previously had a white male roommate in the same apartment, was notified that he would face eviction if Lopez remained. Lopez moved out.
Lopez and Beaumont complained about their treatment to the Westside Fair Housing Council, which investigated the charges.
The council sent one black and two white checkers to the apartment in October to apply for apartments. The suit alleges that the black checker, Robin A. Patrick, was told there were no apartments available. The white checkers entered the apartment complex immediately before and after the black checker. The whites were shown apartments and given applications, Patterson said. The suit names Beaumont, Lopez and Patrick as plaintiffs in the case.
"The whites were shown apartments and given applications, but the blacks were told that no apartment were available. They didn't tell them when apartments would be available and they did not offer them a rental application," Patterson said.
The suit accused the owners of excluding all but a token number of blacks from the complex. "The representation of blacks is significantly lower than their representation in the surrounding community," Patterson said. He did not have specific figures.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund began in 1939 as the legal arm of the NAACP. Since 1957, the fund has been a separate organization fighting for voting rights and against discrimination in education, employment and housing.
The Westside Fair Housing Council, a 20-year-old organization, handles more than 100 complaints alleging discrimination each year. Last month, the owners of a 180-unit luxury apartment complex in Mar Vista agreed to pay the council $35,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit.