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Muslims Sue, Alleging Discrimination

Families in Anaheim apartments say they are victims of religious and housing bias. Manager calls it just a landlord-tenant dispute.

September 24, 2005|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Seven Muslim families filed a lawsuit Friday alleging religious and housing discrimination at an Anaheim apartment complex.

The suit alleges that the owner and the manager of Chaumont Villas refused to make repairs to apartments, don't allow Muslim children to play in public areas and have harassed Muslim families because of their faith.

The suit was announced at a news conference in front of the complex at 1600 W. Broadway, attended by several tenants and representatives of the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The suit was filed in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of Tawfiq M. Mousa, Mustafa A. Suleiman, Waleed M. Abdullah, Jamal Almasri, Mohammed Wali Hakami, Abdullah T. Assaf and Issam H. Wahby.

Listed as defendants were property management firm Swami International, businessman Ram K. Mittal, and corporations DKM Investments and RKM Investments.

"This is nothing more than a landlord-tenant dispute," said Pat Mitchell, a vice president for Swami, located in Rolling Hills Estates.

Mousa said he, his wife and three children had lived three years in their $1,450-a-month, 3-bedroom unit with no problems until a new manager arrived at the complex a year ago.

"Since then, there's been a pattern of harassment against Muslims renting here," said Mousa, 43, an engineer.

Manager Bridgett Phillips yelled at Muslim children and chased them from common areas, and frequently referred to Muslim tenants with profanity, the suit alleges. Phillips, named as a defendant, could not be reached for comment.

In June, the dispute escalated when Mousa circulated a petition seeking a new manager and asking for repairs to units, including fixing rusted plumbing and peeling paint. It was signed by two dozen Muslim and non-Muslim tenants at the 61-unit complex.

"That's when I was handed a 60-day eviction notice," he said.

But Mitchell said Mousa was evicted for causing friction between Muslim tenants and the apartment manager and said Mousa followed Phillips around the complex snapping her picture.

"He has been harassing the manager and not allowing her to do her job," Mitchell said. "We can't have somebody creating a hostile environment."

Although Southern California is home to an estimated 500,000 Muslims, it's a population that doesn't file many housing complaints, said Connie Der Torossian, a spokeswoman for the Fair Housing Council of Orange County.

"It's a hard population to reach and similar to some of the ethnic minorities like Vietnamese," Der Torossian said. "They're afraid to make complaints out of fear of retaliation."

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 27 cases of religious discrimination were filed statewide in the year ending Sept. 1. Of those, five were brought by Muslims.

Of the seven families that are plaintiffs in the suit, two have moved out of Chaumont Villas after they sought larger apartments there but were told none were available, said their attorney, Federico C. Sayre.

The apartments were then rented to non-Muslims, the suit alleges.

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