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Refusal to rent to family brings fine

The owner of a Town of Tonawanda apartment complex that refused to rent to a family with children recently was ordered to pay more than $45,000 in damages.

Sherwood Terrace Apartments, 2470 Sheridan Drive, violated state and federal fair housing laws, the state Division of Human Rights found.

The case was filed by Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a Western New York fair housing agency, on behalf of Carol Gostomski and her two children.

A spokeswoman for HOME said Gostomski was looking for housing in April 2005 near her parents' Tonawanda home. She saw a sign advertising vacancies at Sherwood Terrace and made an appointment.

When Gostomski took her two sons to the appointment, she wasn't given a chance to see a unit. According to the decision by Judge Martin Erazo Jr., an administrative law judge, owner Dennis Hankinson refused to show it because the children ". . . can fall off the balcony and you could sue me."

"I was really upset that he would not rent the apartment to us -- not because of money or references, but because of my kids," Gostomski said. "They were devastated that we could not even see the apartment."

Hankinson later made a similar statement to Gostomski's father, the judge found. And, during an investigation by HOME, the agency's investigator with children also was denied an opportunity to see a unit.

The order by Erazo was upheld by Human Rights Commissioner Kimiki Gibson. The $45,178 penalty included $10,000 to HOME for its expenses in filing the case and an $8,000 civil penalty.

Sherwood Terrace also was ordered to establish policies ensuring against future discrimination.

HOME is a civil rights organization that, since 1963, has led the struggle for fair housing in the Buffalo Niagara region. Scott W. Gehl, the agency's executive director, said discrimination against families with children is the second most frequently reported type of housing bias in metropolitan areas during the past decade.


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