Summerville landlord accused of bias

Altman Apartments ad on yahoo.com

The U.S. Justice Department took issue with a 16-unit apartment complex in Summerville after its landlord allegedly advertised that tenants must not have children.

A lawsuit filed in federal court accuses John Wingard Altman of violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against families with children at Altman Apartments on Central Avenue.

The suit says advertisements on Yahoo! and on yellowpages.com describing the unfurnished apartments say "no pets, no children," and that a voicemail greeting for the complex specifies that tenants must be at least 21 years old.

Reached by phone Thursday, Altman denied the charges.

"I have a small apartment building, family-owned," he said. "There was a bad advertisement that got put in the Yellow Pages, so that's it."

He has owned the complex for about three years and said he hired an attorney to represent him in the case.

"It's a single-bedroom apartment, a 10-by-15 room, and most people that rent them don't have children. They just don't," he said. "I definitely have never told anybody that if they have children, they can't rent an apartment."

Federal officials said individuals who posed as renters gathered evidence to the contrary. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, family status, nationality or disability.

"Housing discrimination against families with children has been illegal for more than 20 years, but it remains a persistent problem," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws that protect the rights of families with children."

The lawsuit seeks a court order barring Altman from future discrimination and providing monetary damages to those harmed by the alleged discrimination, plus a civil penalty. Anyone with information related to the case should contact the U.S. Justice Department at 800-896-7743, mailbox number 9998, or at fairhousing@usdoj.gov.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or on Twitter at @allysonjbird.