An Augusta area real estate company and its agent are paying thousands of dollars to settle allegations they denied housing in Manchester to families with children.

Page Realty LLC – the owner of a Manchester single-family rental property – and its rental agent, Ramona Venskus, will pay $18,000 under a HUD Consent Order to resolve an October 2018 charge of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the order, Venskus will pay $13,000 and Page Realty will pay $5,000, and they will be required to undergo fair housing training.

“It’s hard enough for families to find places to live that meet their needs without being denied suitable housing because they have children,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, in a prepared statement.

The payments will go to Pine Tree Legal Assistance Inc., which initiated the complaint against Page and Venskus, alleging they discriminated based on familial status. The Portland-based agency alleged that Page and Venskus refused to negotiate with fair housing testers posing as families with children, that the firm posted discriminatory advertisements indicating that children were not allowed, and that they made discriminatory statements to fair housing testers.

Patricia Ender, counsel for Pine Tree, said the agency has a HUD grant to conduct fair housing testing, a program handled by staff attorney Jill Hunter. Ender said testers are assigned to determine whether landlords are in violations of Fair Housing Act standards.

“This was tester-based evidence,” Ender said of how the case came about. “There’s a control tester, which is someone who is not in a protected group, and then testers in a protected group.”

In this case, people in the protected group were those posing as people with children or pregnant.

“They (the testers) called the contact number and asked questions,” Ender said. “They were told that it was not an appropriate unit for children.”

Hunter, meanwhile, “did a couple of tests and the information was the same for (the testers posing as) families with children,” she added. “People without children were not given the same responses. So there was evidence they were treated differently, due to statements made by Ms. Venskus that the units were not suitable for people with children.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to families with children under age 18, including refusing to negotiate, making discriminatory statements and publishing discriminatory advertisements based on familial status.

Jed Davis, of the Augusta-based firm of Mitchell & Davis, who represented Page Realty LLC, also is listed as the registered agent for the company. He did not respond immediately to an email seeking comment.

Ramona Venskus, who operates Newcomer Relocation Services, was working on behalf of Page Realty. According to LinkedIn, Venskus has been operating the business since 1983, offering rental services for landlords, including advertising, promoting and showing property.

Neither Venskus nor her attorney, Neil Shankman, of Shankman & Associates, responded to messages left seeking comment on the case.

Ender said she wasn’t convinced Page Realty knew Venskus “was turning people away, but they have a liability.”

“I think she thinks she was doing people a favor, but it’s not her decision (whether a property is suitable). It’s the parents’ decision,” Ender said, adding that this type of discrimination is common, but most people don’t file complaints. “It’s very prevalent and it makes things very hard for families.”

She was satisfied with the disposition of the case, calling the settlement “pretty fair.”

The monetary damages paid by Page and Venskus will go toward other Fair Housing-related work done by Pine Tree. “That can be doing trainings, developing education materials, outreach or bringing in and investigating other complaints,” Ender said.

For more information about Fair Housing practices in Maine, visit the Pine Tree Legal Assistance website. People who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at 800-669-9777 or 800-927-9275 (TTY).


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