An Orland Park real estate agent engaged in race-based housing discrimination by refusing to show available apartments to black prospective renters on three occasions earlier this year, a federal lawsuit claims.
South Suburban Housing Center, a Homewood-based nonprofit agency that promotes equal opportunity in housing, alleged in a suit filed Nov. 27 in district court that real estate broker Dennis Kolios and his wife, Mary Kolios, who own an Orland Park apartment building, violated the Fair Housing Act and Civil Rights Act by discriminating against prospective black tenants who responded to an ad for the rental of a unit within their building.
The agency, which performs investigations into the rental practices of area landlords, launched a probe into the Kolioses over the summer that involved assigning matched pairs of white and black testers to respond to an online rental ad for a two-bedroom, one bathroom unit in their building on Lexington Circle, according to the suit.
Over an 11-day period this summer, all six of the testers — whose voices were screened and identified as readily identifiable as either Caucasian or African American — called the phone number listed in the advertisement and spoke to Dennis Kolios about the apartment, the suit states.
Kolios provided two of the white-sounding testers the exact address of the apartment building, was responsive to their requests and showed both of them the unit within one day, according to the suit.
The black-sounding testers, however, allegedly received disparate treatment. Two were never provided the apartment’s address and a third was told by Kolios that the apartment was no longer available and that he did not anticipate another one becoming available in the near future.
When a white-sounding tester called later that day to ask about the availability of the two-bedroom unit, Kolios told her it was still available and scheduled an appointment to show it to her, according to the suit.
South Suburban Housing Center executive director John Petruszak said in a statement that the inability of qualified black renters to even get inside the door to apply for the apartment had compelled the agency to file suit against Kolios.
“I have never run across a case where the African American tester could not even get the address of the property from the housing provider,” said Jeffrey Taren, an attorney who has represented the South Suburban Housing Center in fair housing cases for three decades.
Kolios and his wife — who said her name is on the property but that she has no involvement in her husband’s real estate activities — both said Wednesday they were unaware of the suit and had not reviewed the allegations against them.
Kolios denied he ever discriminated against prospective renters on the basis of race and said he only screened clients for their ability to pay rent, not their demographic qualities.
Of his approximately 30 tenants in residential and commercial buildings in Orland Park, Joliet and Oak Forest, Kolios estimated that about half were black and said he would never rule out tenants because of their race or perceived race.
He said there must have been a misunderstanding or some other innocent explanation for why he did not follow up with the black-sounding testers.
Kolios said he always asks prospective renters about their credit scores and if they’ve ever been evicted from a property. If their scores are below 660 or if they’ve previously been evicted, he typically won’t rent to them, he said
“Every time I speak to someone I tell them the same thing exactly,” he said.
South Suburban Housing Center’s suit seeks a court order requiring that Kolios cease discriminating against black renters and that the court’s findings be referred to the Illinois Department of Registration for license revocation proceedings.
It also seeks remedial relief to remedy the past effects of his alleged discriminatory practices as well as actual and punitive damages as a result of his “willful, malicious and reckless conduct.”
“South Suburban Housing Center takes these cases very, very seriously,” Taren said. "They don’t file lawsuits against housing providers unless they truly believe that there’s been a violation of the law and that it’s provable...
“We feel confident given what’s taken place here that this is a provable case.”