Four Latino families being evicted from a mobile-home park because at least one family member is undocumented and doesn’t have a Social Security number filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday that advocates said could set a national precedent in fair-housing law.
The families, who live at the Waples Mobile Home Park in Fairfax County, say they and more than a dozen of their neighbors are being forced to move because the park’s managers are refusing to renew their leases if any resident in the household lacks proof of legal status.
Rosy Giron de Reyes moved with her family to a more expensive apartment in Annandale after her landlord said her husband and 5-year-old son could stay but she would have to leave.
“It’s affected me a lot, especially economically,” Giron de Reyes said through a translator Monday outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, where the lawsuit was filed.
She said she and her husband worked multiple jobs for years in order to save up $25,000 to afford a mobile home, which they bought three years ago and began occupying on a lot they rented from the trailer park.
At Waples, she said, she babysat for other children in her home to earn money. “Now I’ve been forced to look for other work,” she said
Attorneys for the families are alleging that the requirement for all tenants to have a Social Security card, visa and related documents or a passport is discriminatory because it disproportionately affects Latinos. Similar policies imposed by cities and counties across the country have been overturned in federal courts but few, if any, suits have been filed against private landlords, the attorneys said.
“This type of discrimination is all too common, but the law is unfortunately far from clear,” said Ivy Finkenstadt, managing attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center, which is representing the families along with the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. “We are hoping that the federal court in Alexandria will take it one step further and prohibit this practice by a private landlord as well.”
The 150-lot park is owned by a limited partnership headed by Albert J. Dwoskin and managed by the A.J. Dwoskin & Associates property management firm. Mike Dean, general counsel for the firm, and Josephine Giambanco, who is the on-site manager of Waples Mobile Home Park, both declined to comment on the lawsuit on Monday.
Finkenstadt and other lawyers said the evictions have forced low-earning residents who had managed to get an ownership foothold in highly expensive Northern Virginia to slip back into the crowded, high-cost rental market.
The policy of requiring Social Security numbers has been in place for years but wasn’t enforced until mid-2015, residents said. All of the families involved in the lawsuit have children who are U.S. citizens and include at least one adult with a Social Security number. All have lived in the park from between two and six years.
According to the lawsuit, the park management told residents that the documents they sought were necessary to run criminal background checks. When offered other documents that would enable that research, such as Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers or passports from foreign countries, the landlord refused them, the lawsuit said.
The landlord also required those households with undocumented residents to change from annual leases to month-to-month leases, according to the lawsuit, and imposed a $300 monthly fee in addition to the $765-per-month lot rent.
“They’re kicking out people who have a history of paying bills on time and who have been good tenants,” said lawyer Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, director of immigrant advocacy for the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Even if the court ultimately decides the landlord has a right to do this, it’s equally clear the landlord doesn’t have to do this.”