FREMONT -- The Department of Justice has filed a federal lawsuit against the owners of a Glenmoor neighborhood apartment complex, alleging they discriminated against families in violation of the Fair Housing Act by prohibiting their children from playing in the common grassy areas of the complex.

Filed Oct. 25 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the suit claims the owners and rental staff of Woodland Garden Apartments, a 37-unit complex, enforced a policy banning children from playing outside in the common grassy areas.

The complex is owned by Fred Martin and managed by Fatima Rivera, both named as defendants in the suit. Alfredo Rivera, a former maintenance worker who participated in enforcing the policy, is also a defendant, according to the 12-page suit.

Neither Martin nor the Riveras could be reached for comment Monday.

"Families with children should have the same ability to enjoy their homes as all other tenants," said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

The lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed by five families with children who lived at the complex. The complaints were filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Project Sentinel, a nonprofit Santa Clara-based organization that promotes fair housing.

After HUD investigated the complaints, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department, the suit reads.


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The suit was filed on behalf of the following tenants and their children: Veronica Panuco and Youcef Aissous; Ruby Diaz and Ruben Rodriguez; Leticia Baltazar; Araceli Lopez-Porras and Gustavo Porras; and Ian Von Deisenroth and Sarah Cameron.

According to one allegation in the suit, on Sept. 12, 2012, Fatima Rivera issued a letter to tenants that read: "From now on no kids or guest kids are allowed outside. I tried to be flexible and allowed the children to play outside but my plants got destroy(ed), rocks in the pool and dirt, sprinklers broken, tree branches broken, grass damage. There is no playground on this property. Please take some time to take the children to the park. If our instructions aren't followed we will have to move you out."

On about a half-dozen other occasions, the plaintiffs received either a verbal warning or written note ordering them to keep their children indoors, followed by a subsequent threat of eviction, according to the suit.

In fear of being kicked out, the suit continues, the families kept their children indoors.

"Housing providers cannot impose more restrictive policies on families with children or evict them simply because their children leave the unit," said Bryan Greene, HUD acting assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "HUD and DOJ are committed to enforcing the fair housing rights of all people, including families with children."

The suit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants' actions and a civil penalty.

Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund.