Judge Rules Lawsuit Over Neglected Home Exteriors Can Continue

July 23, 2019

A federal judge in Maryland denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against Bank of America and Safeguard Properties Management that accuses the firms of intentionally failing to provide routine exterior maintenance and marketing of bank-owned homes in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods. The lawsuit was filed in federal court by the National Fair Housing Alliance, 19 fair housing organizations, and two homeowners.

The lawsuit was filed in June 2018, but Bank of America and Safeguard have been trying to get the case dismissed, denying any wrongdoing.

In the lawsuit, Bank of America and Safeguard are accused of failing to provide routine maintenance and marketing of bank-owned properties across 37 metro areas within black and Latino neighborhoods. The lawsuit states that similar bank-owned properties in white neighborhoods, on the other hand, were consistently maintained.

The National Fair Housing Alliance said that it had launched its own investigation of more than 1,600 Bank of America-owned homes in white, African American, and Latino neighborhoods. NFHA has pointed to photos of bank-owned homes in minority neighborhoods in disrepair, with overgrown weeds, unsecured doors, filled with trash, graffiti, and dead animals decaying in the yard. On the flip side, they say that bank-owned homes in middle-class neighborhoods in predominantly white areas tended to have manicured lawns that were edged regularly, leaves raked, and any trash removed.

“Their inaction and refusal to maintain properties in communities of color has created a dangerous and harmful environment,” NFHA CEO and president Lisa Rice said in welcoming the judge’s ruling that the lawsuit could proceed. NFHA says they first made Bank of America and Safeguard aware of the problems in 2009 and offered recommendations for improvement. But their suggestions, they claim, were not taken and resulted in them taking legal action.

Bank of America and Safeguard had asked the judge to dismiss the case.

However, “the facts pled raise a reasonable inference that the defendants violated anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act,” the judge wrote in his recent ruling. “The threshold and legal arguments for dismissal are not persuasive.”