FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Nina E. Vinik, Fair Housing Project Director, Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., (312) 630-9744, firstname.lastname@example.org
Theresa Welch, South Austin Coalition Community Council, (773) 287-9957
FEDERAL COURT APPROVES $1.13 MILLION SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT AGAINST EASY LIFE REAL ESTATE
CHICAGO--(June 4, 2001)-- The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. announced that Hon. Elaine E. Bucklo of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted final approval last week of a settlement reached earlier this year in the highly publicized Fair Housing Act class action lawsuit filed on behalf purchasers of homes in Austin from Easy Life Real Estate System, Inc. and Ace Realtors, Inc. Richard Nelson and Louis Prus, officers of the companies, were also named as defendants.
Under the general terms of the settlement, the defendants agree immediately to pay $750,000 to the class. The settlement calls for the money to be distributed to class members in July. The money will be divided equally among the claimants, with approximately $5,000 going to each purchaser or group of purchasers of the Austin properties. The balance of the settlement, $380,000, will be paid to plaintiffs and their attorneys over the next 12 months. Under the settlement, the defendants also agreed to provide certain information to all future purchasers of property in Austin, consisting of lists of independent attorneys, home inspectors, mortgage lenders, and home buyer counseling agencies.
The lawsuit was filed in August 1997, alleging that defendants bought fire-damaged, abandoned homes in the Austin area, performed minimal cosmetic repairs, marketed them as “fully rehabbed” to unsuspecting low-income, first time buyers, and sold them at inflated prices. The suit also alleged that defendants arranged for FHA-insured mortgage loans with lenders, and steered buyers to attorneys, who defendants knew would approve the transaction with little or no scrutiny. The suit alleged that defendants violated the fair housing and civil rights laws by targeting their predatory practices in the overwhelming African American Austin community.
Under the settlement, the defendants deny any and all wrongdoing.
In addition to the purchasers, the South Austin Coalition Community Council also sued as a plaintiff. Several years ago they began to receive complaints about poor quality homes sold by Easy Life and Ace. Since then, they have struggled with a rash of abandoned homes in Austin after many Easy Life buyers lost their homes through foreclosure. Under the settlement, SACCC will receive $35,000. “Easy Life and Ace took advantage of our community for years,” said Theresa Welch of the South Austin Coalition. “But these victims didn't just lay down. They fought for their rights and for their neighbors and their neighborhood. This is truly a victory for the Easy Life home owners and the Austin community.”
“This settlement sends a powerful message,” said Nina Vinik of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee, “that businesses that prey on low income communities and people of color will be held accountable under the civil rights laws. This case shows that discrimination carries a steep price.”
The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. is a public interest law consortium of Chicago's finest law firms. It has 44 members, comprising 4,000 lawyers who are available to assist poor, minority and disadvantaged people in both litigation and transactional work. In 1999, this contribution exceeded $3 million worth of pro bono legal services. The plaintiffs were also represented by lawyers from the Chicago law firm of Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe, working on a pro bono basis in cooperation with the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.