In re Accusation of Department of Fair Employment and Housing, 041312 CAFEHC, H 201011-W-0057-00r

Docket Nº:H 201011-W-0057-00r, H 201011-W-0058-00r, C 11-12-005, 12-04-P
Opinion Judge:Caroline L. Hunt, Administrative Law Judge
Party Name:In the Matter of the Accusation of the DEPARTMENT OF FAIR EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING v. SABINA STEINBERG, as Owner, Respondent. CHRISTOPHER COONEY, SARAH MARRIOTT, as an individual and Guardian ad Litem for ELINOR COONEY-MARRIOTT, a minor, SOPHIA COONEY-MARRIOTT, a minor and THEODORE COONEY-MARRIOTT, a minor, Complainants.
Case Date:April 13, 2012
Court:Fair Employment and Housing Commission of California
 
FREE EXCERPT

In the Matter of the Accusation of the DEPARTMENT OF FAIR EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING

v.

SABINA STEINBERG, as Owner, Respondent.

CHRISTOPHER COONEY, SARAH MARRIOTT, as an individual and Guardian ad Litem for ELINOR COONEY-MARRIOTT, a minor, SOPHIA COONEY-MARRIOTT, a minor and THEODORE COONEY-MARRIOTT, a minor, Complainants.

Nos. H 201011-W-0057-00r, H 201011-W-0058-00r, C 11-12-005, 12-04-P

Fair Employment and Housing Commission of California

April 13, 2012

DECISION

Caroline L. Hunt, Administrative Law Judge

The Fair Employment and Housing Commission hereby adopts the attached Proposed Decision as the Commission's final decision in this matter and designates it precedential, pursuant to Government Code section 12935, subdivision (h), and California Code of Regulations, Title 2, section 7435, subdivision (a).

Any party adversely affected by this decision may seek judicial review of the decision under Government Code sections 11523 and 12987.1, Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5, and California Code of Regulations, title 2, section 7437.

Any petition for judicial review and related papers shall be served on the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the Commission, respondent, and complainants.

Fair Employment and Housing Commission

Stuart Leviton

Chané Franklin Minor

Danielle Nava

Dale Brodsky

PROPOSED DECISION

Administrative Law Judge Caroline L. Hunt heard this matter on behalf of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission on December 1, 2011, in Oakland, California. Megan Elsea, Staff Counsel, represented the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Complainants Christopher Cooney and Sarah Marriott attended the hearing throughout. There was no appearance by or on behalf of respondent Sabina Steinberg.

The Commission received the hearing transcript on December 19, 2011, and the case was deemed submitted.

After consideration of the entire record, the administrative law judge makes the following findings of fact, determination of issues, and order.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. On September 7, 2010, complainants Christopher Cooney and Sarah Marriott, on her own behalf and on behalf of Elinor, Sophia and Theodore Cooney (minor children), filed written, verified housing complaints with the DFEH against Sabina Steinberg, owner of a house located at 515 Colusa Avenue, Berkeley, California. The complaint alleged that Steinberg discriminated against Cooney and Marriott based on their familial status by demanding a rent increase because of the birth of their triplets, and by serving them with an eviction notice in retaliation for protesting the rent increase, in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA or the Act). (Gov. Code, § 12900, et seq.)

2. On May 4 and 5, 2011, respectively, Cooney and Marriott filed amended DFEH complaints against Sabina Steinberg, further alleging that Steinberg retaliated against complainants by calling the Berkeley Police Department under a pretext of concern about their welfare. In the amended complaints, Cooney and Marriott further alleged that they and the minor children moved out of the premises on November 30, 2010. 1

3. On September 2, 2011, Phyllis W. Cheng, as Director of the DFEH, issued an accusation against respondent Sabina Steinberg, pursuant to Government Code section 12930, subdivision (h), of the FEHA. The DFEH's accusation alleged that respondent Steinberg, owner of a four bedroom flat located at 515 Colusa Avenue, Berkeley, California, discriminated against Christopher Cooney and Sarah Marriott (complainants), and their minor children Elinor, Sophia and Theodore Cooney-Marriott, on the basis of familial status when Steinberg learned that Cooney and Marriott had triplets by demanding a rent increase of $300 per month and an additional security deposit of $2, 000. The accusation further alleged that Steinberg gave complainants a Notice to Vacate the Property and, after the DFEH complaints were served, engaged in retaliatory acts against complainants, resulting in their constructive eviction. The DFEH alleged that respondent Steinberg thereby violated Government Code section 12955, subdivisions (a), (c), (d), (f) and (k), and Civil Code section 51 (the Unruh Civil Rights Act).

4. At all times relevant, respondent Steinberg was the owner of real property located at 515 Colusa Avenue, Berkeley, California (515 Colusa Avenue). In February 2010, Steinberg was offering to rent a four-bedroom, two-bath flat in the main house at 515 Colusa Avenue. Steinberg also rented out a downstairs apartment converted from a garage, and a detached studio located behind the main house.

5. In February 2010, complainants Cooney and Marriott were looking for a bigger house to move into, because Marriott was pregnant. They liked the 515 Colusa Avenue property, as it was conveniently located for each of them to commute to work, and significantly more spacious than their old apartment, with a large backyard, suitable for their dog, Hector. Marriott worked as an attorney for a law firm in San Francisco, and Cooney was a wine-maker in Napa.

6. On March 14, 2010, Cooney and Marriott met with respondent Steinberg at 515 Colusa Avenue to sign the lease for the rental of the 515 Colusa Avenue flat. At that time, Marriott was noticeably pregnant, and she and Cooney mentioned that they were " expecting." Steinberg offered them congratulations on the pregnancy.

7. On March 14, 2010, Cooney, Marriott and respondent Steinberg signed a written lease agreement, which provided that complainants' tenancy was to commence on May 1, 2010, for a period of eight months, with rent of $3, 500 a month, and a security deposit of $3, 500. The lease provided that " apart from the Tenant, no other persons will live in the Premises without the written permission of the Landlord." The lease did not include any reference to children.

8. In early May 2010, Cooney and Marriott moved into 515 Colusa Avenue.

9. On July 4, 2010, Marriott gave birth to triplets, Elinor, Sophia and Theodore. The babies were born prematurely, and needed to be kept in the hospital, with their breathing and heart rates closely monitored, for several weeks after their birth.

10. On July 30, 2010, the triplets were released and allowed to go home, after 26 days of hospitalization. That morning, Marriott and Cooney picked the babies up from the hospital, relieved and excited to be bringing their triplets home. As Cooney and Marriott were loading the children into their car, Cooney received a call on his cellular telephone, which he ignored. In the next 10 minutes or so, as they drove home, he received at least six more calls. Cooney did not take the calls, and when he reviewed his messages, saw that they were all from respondent Steinberg. In her voicemails to Cooney, Steinberg expressed anger that he and Marriott were bringing home three babies, instead of one. She demanded that they pay $300 per month in extra rent and $2, 000 as an additional security deposit.

11. Later that day, on July 30, 2010, Steinberg wrote an email to Cooney and Marriott, in which she stated:

I have just learned that you are expecting three babies. As you know, the agreement is signed for two people and one more child. I am disappointed to learn that you hid that important fact from me ... Reflecting new [sic] development, I am raising the rent from $3, 500 to $3, 800 commencing August 1. Additional security deposit is due on the same date in the amount of $2, 000 ....

Steinberg also added that she would no longer allow complainants to pay for repairs and then deduct the charges from their rent, and that they should install a new washing machine in the shared laundry at their own expense.

12. Cooney and Marriott later learned that Steinberg had heard about the triplets from the new tenant in the downstairs apartment, Meredith Wright, who had asked Steinberg to repair some electrical problems so that there would be heat and light in Cooney's and Marriott's nursery when the babies came home.

13. Cooney and Marriott were taken aback at Steinberg's telephone calls and email and shocked at Steinberg's attitude and hostility. They both felt stressed and anxious at what was going to happen. Cooney worried that they could be turned out of their home without notice, and was concerned about finding a new place and having to move, with their newborn triplets.

14. That afternoon, Marriott contacted the Berkeley Rent Board and a number of friends and acquaintances to try and find out more information, including their options as tenants and whether they could be evicted for having three children. Marriott was informed that one of their options was to contact the DFEH to file a complaint.

15. On July 30, 2010, Cooney called Steinberg back and expressed willingness to discuss the issues in a meeting the next day. On July 31, 2010, Steinberg and Cooney met in the kitchen of the flat, while Marriott was occupied with the triplets in another room. Steinberg demanded that Cooney and Marriott pay the increased rent and security deposit because they had three children. Cooney responded that he did not think that a landlord could legally ask that, and that they did not intend to pay the increased rent and security deposit because they were not obliged to do so. Steinberg became angry and stormed out of the flat.

16. On August 1, 2010, Cooney and Marriott did not pay the increased sums demanded by Steinberg, but rather tendered their regular rent at the formerly agreed upon rate.

17. On August 8, 2010, Steinberg wrote an email to Cooney an Marriott with the subject line " [N]otice to [V]acate the [P]roperty." In the body of the email...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP