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Ohio civil rights agency weighs housing complaint

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The case of a landlady accused of fair housing violations because she refused to rent apartments to undercover anti-discrimination testers could get a final decision from Ohio's civil rights agency Thursday.

Helen Grybosky told undercover testers who said they had disability dogs that pets weren't allowed or required an extra deposit at an apartment in Conneaut in northeastern Ohio, a 2009 complaint by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission claims.

Grybosky, 81, told another tester alleging to be a single mother with a child that she could only rent a downstairs unit at a higher cost, a second complaint claims. Both alleged violations of state and federal law.

The complaints were based on allegations filed with the commission in 2008 by Painesville, Ohio-based Fair Housing Resource Center, an anti-discrimination group that first investigated Grybosky.

An administrative judge ruled against Grybosky last year and the commission upheld the judge's ruling this summer.

At issue Thursday are damages and attorneys' fees facing Grybosky.

In March, the judge recommended that Grybosky pay $12,000 in actual damages and $10,000 in punitive damages, along with $87,000 in attorneys' fees to the commission and Fair Housing Resource Center.

In late July, the commission modified the financial penalties, limiting them to $100 in damages and about $9,000 in attorneys' fees and travel costs.

The commission based that modification on Grybosky not having a previous history of discrimination and the fact there were no actual victims of discrimination — only testers.

But in August, the commission said it had changed its mind and would issue a new ruling Thursday.

Grybosky's attorney has long argued no discrimination occurred because testers and not real renters were involved.

"Random testing of landlords by a housing agency does not result in actual harm or injury to the agency for which it can recover damages as a matter of law — Ohio and federal and common sense," Tarin Hale, Grybosky's attorney, wrote in a filing to the commission ahead of Thursday's hearing.

The executive director of Fair Housing said the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of testers to investigate housing discrimination, which she said is more subtle today.

"Housing discrimination is often well-hidden and many Ohio residents do not know that they enjoy fair housing rights," Patricia Kidd wrote in a filing with the commission asking it return to the judge's recommendations. "Landlords have keys to tenants' homes, decide who can and cannot rent scarce housing, and work mostly free from scrutiny."

Regardless of the commission's decision Thursday, the case is likely to end up in the state court system on appeal by either Fair Housing or Grybosky.


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