Post-Racial America Update: White Landlord Refuses to Rent to Black College Student

Pearl Beck, 92, and her 51 year old son, Gregory are bigots. And they are going to have to pay for it to the tune of $25,500, the amount of restitution a federal court determined they owe college student Ranesha Halliburton for refusing to rent her a home because of her race. Gregory Beck pulled out the old “I am married to an American Indian” card to deny the racism inherent in his actions, and claims that he and his mother have gay, Mexican and Indian tenants, but have never rented to Black tenants because “We don’t see that many around here. … They don’t want to come up here because it’s too cold,”

The court found that the Becks violated the Fair Housing Act by denying Halliburton the rental property in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota that she was applying for in 2007. Although Halliburton was told that the property was no longer available, a month after she was turned down , it was rented to a white man. Gregory Beck claims that he and his mother never discriminated against Halliburton, and that the government “was lied to” and that officials “want to believe the minority because that is what they represent.”

Halliburton says she is not surprised that Gregory Beck denies mistreating her. She also says that despite her poor treatment by the Becks, she was determined to make her home in Detroit Lakes, and has since found a home with a “wonderful landlord”. She is working as a nurse’s assistant and attending college nearby. She has not let the Becks dissuade her from creating a life for herself in the town she has chosen to settle in.

But Halliburton was not about to let the Becks get away with their discriminatory behavior. She filed a report alleging discrimination, and will now receive compensation for her ordeal.

In its complaint, the federal government alleged that in July 2007, Halliburton answered an ad for a duplex unit for rent on West Lake Avenue in Detroit Lakes. In an initial telephone conversation, Pearl Beck said that the residence was available. She later acknowledged to HUD that she did not know the caller’s race at the time of the phone call.

But when Halliburton arrived to see the property with her boyfriend and his father, Pearl Beck said it was not for rent, adding, “No way. No way. It’s not for rent. I can’t do this. I’m not renting to these kinds of people.”

The next day, according to HUD, a white woman and acquaintance of Halliburton’s posed as a prospective renter and met Pearl Beck at the same property. The acquaintance asked Pearl Beck whether she rented to blacks or American Indians. The landlord responded, “A carload of them came by the other day, but I will keep that unit vacant or move in myself before renting to blacks.”

Halliburton contacted Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, and one of its attorneys called Pearl Beck. She told the attorney that her tenants next door had told her that they would move out if she rented to “black people.” The attorney responded that that type of discrimination was illegal.

Beck then said Halliburton had dogs, and that was why she turned her down. She added that the home was too small for the prospective tenant, and that she planned to move in there herself.
As part of the agreement, the Becks paid Halliburton $25,500, and they must cease refusing to rent property based on race, display fair-housing materials in all of their rental properties and include the words “Equal Housing Opportunity” in any of their advertising material.

They also must attend a training program focusing on the race-related provisions of federal, state and local fair housing laws. (source)Interestingly enough, when I was in college, I took an undergraduate course in law, and the professor INSISTED that it was perfectly legal to discriminate when renting property. He claimed that if a landlord owns private property they have the right to decide who they do and do not want to rent to based on ANY factor they want to take into consideration.

Not true. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 forbids discrimination based on “race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability)”

But, of course, we all know that race based discrimination occurs in housing all the time. In fact, I am currently planning to relocate to another state, and the friend I am going to live near has already warned me that he cannot come apartment searching with me, because he is a Black man, and seeing him accompanying me on my search will bring out the racism in the landlords I encounter.

I have actually chosen to look only at apartment complexes for this very reason, as I have received information from my current landlord that my neighbors have been complaining for years about my choice of house guests. In fact, when the woman in the apartment next door to me moved in, the neighbors apparently confronted my landlord, telling him that they did not want him to accept a Black tenant. Luckily, he did not concede to their biased demands, but it just goes to show how widespread this type of unwritten policy of race based rental discrimination is.

It seems like private landlords in particular, those who have only a few rental properties, as opposed to companies that run apartment complexes, believe that they are perfectly justified in discriminating against Black potential tenants. In fact, I remember back in the 80s, a family member had a rental property she was advertising, and she absolutely refused to even consider allowing any non-white tenants.

It is definitely time to take these landlords who make decisions based on their bigotry to task, to hold them responsible for their actions. And let’s face it, there is nothing better than hitting them where it hurts… in their pockets.

QUESTION(S): Have you ever been the victim of housing discrimination?