African American investors file federal civil lawsuit after being denied opportunity to purchase advertised property that was marketed to Asians ONLY!
James Ra-amari and Misty Ra-amari are a successful African American couple who fell in love with each other and with real estate in 2016.
James is originally from Sugarland, TX and Misty is originally from New Orleans, LA.
They were both working at apartment communities in Katy, TX, while also pursuing their real estate licenses, when they were introduced to each other by James’ former supervisor (Lucas) who felt that they would really like each other.
That was a serious understatement!
Fast forward—16 years and 4 kids later—it is safe to assume that James’ former supervisor was right. The couple got married on 9/23/2009 and both got their real estate licenses.
In 2007, the Ra-amaris, quit their full-time jobs at the apartment communities, and opened a company called Apartment Professionals—an apartment locating firm—located off Dairy Ashford and Westheimer. They saved and invested their money to become builders and investors in 2014. They transitioned from an apartment locating firm to real estate investors in 2014 and then started The Real Estate People aka TREP.
The Ra-amari’s have a long track record of real estate investment and regularly seek investment opportunities in emerging communities throughout the Greater Houston area and surrounding areas in Texas.
Sadly, as the couple prepares to celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary and their successful real estate journey, they are also having to deal with the emotional decision to file a federal civil lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas for violations of federal civil rights law.
So, what happened?
At least once a week, the Ra-amaris would eat at a restaurant called Jai Kitchen, which is located across the street from a place called the Grand West Condominiums.
On Friday, August 19th, James saw a digital flyer advertising an “Open House” that was taking place on the following day at the Grand West Condominiums. He decided to visit the “Open House” event with his wife and one of his in-laws—Rosemary Afful—who is also a real estate investor, looking for a new home for herself and her three-year old daughter.
The Grand West Condominiums consists of 50 units and is the only residential unit in the business district of Katy’s University Center that provides individual property rights.
On the flyer, an individual named Josie Lin explicitly states more than once that she is a Re/Max Owner/Broker Associate. The Re/Max marketing materials advertising the “Open House” at the Grand West Condominiums were on every corner of the area.
What piqued the interest of James, Misty, and Rosemary, was the fact that it was the first and only condominium development for sale in Katy. Given the massive development plans in that particular area, and Katy as a whole, the Ra-amaris believed they needed to move their resources to that growing community. They were attracted to the Grand West Condominiums because they own property nearby in this area, generally Katy, Texas.
According to the federal civil lawsuit that was filed, on Saturday, August 20th around 12:30 p.m., the Ra-amaris and Rosemary (the Plaintiffs) visited the Grand West Condominiums, and upon arriving, they were met by Lin who asked if they were there for the “Open House” that was advertised on the flyer. Once they informed her that they were in fact there for the “Open House” they claim that Lin began exhibiting an apparent hesitancy that was noticeably obvious.
The Ra-amaris and Rosemary state that they were asked by Lin to wait several minutes before they were permitted by her to tour the Grand West Condominiums. During the tour, the Plaintiffs state that Lin started making improper comments, and asking intrusive and irrelevant questions of them, which raised a serious red flag.
Bothered, yet resolute, despite the treatment displayed by Lin, they continued on and asked to see a one-bedroom unit in the building. Instead of Lin proceeding with the tour, the Plaintiffs state that she abandoned them and had an unidentified gentleman show them the rest of the units. After the conclusion of the tour, the Plaintiffs were led back to the sales office where they were met again by Lin and sat down with the intent to purchase three of the condos they had viewed—one of the condos was for Rosemary, who was going through a divorce and was scheduled to close on the sale of the house she was living in this month, and the other two were being acquired for the Ra-amaris’ investment purposes.
According to the federal civil lawsuit, when the Plaintiffs asked Lin if the unit prices were open for negotiation, she responded, flatly, by stating “I do not negotiate.”
The Ra-amaris and Rosemary did not waver from their plans to purchase the units regardless, despite the unwillingness by Lin to negotiate.
In response to their continued efforts to purchase the units, Lin allegedly stated, “Fannie Mae lending would not be approved due to the owner occupancy ratio of the condominiums”, even though neither of the Plaintiffs communicated any plans or a desire to get financing for the sale of the units through Fannie Mae.
The Plaintiffs then inquired about when the Homeowners Association (HOA) meetings were held, to which the lawsuit claims that Lin misrepresented that she was not a real estate agent and that she did not hold HOA meetings because she was the majority owner of the complex and makes the rules in the condominium.
In response to that statement, Rosemary asked if Lin could provide the interested buyers a copy of the by-laws after mentioning a covenant about owner leasing rules. Not only did Lin fail to provide a copy of the by-laws after the interaction, but according to the lawsuit, Lin allegedly went on to explicitly state that she was refusing to sell to the Plaintiffs, because ‘all the current owners were personal friends and knew each other’ and because ‘she is the owner and she determined who could live at Grand West’ and because ‘she desired to have owners in Grand West who were 55 and older’.
When the Plaintiffs asked Lin, “Are you not going to sell to us because we are not 55 or older?” the lawsuit claims that Lin replied, “No, I’m not going to sell to you because I have a gut feeling that I would not get along with you.”
At the end of the day, Lin refused to sell the property to the Ra-amaris and Rosemary, leaving them feeling mistreated, uncomfortable, and displeased.
“Racism in this form is supposed to be dead and forgotten,” said James. “This Re/Max agent resurrected some old discriminatory actions and must be held accountable for such actions.”
This was indeed some extremely odd and seemingly discriminatory activity, considering that in Grand West Condominium’s Information Packet, they explicitly advertise and market occupancy by a particular racial demographic—Asians.
The Information Packet boldly declares that the “Grand West Condos is a new option for Chinese and Asian communities” and that the Grand West Condos are “a new option for a safe and simple Asian life.”
Here is a portion of blatantly discriminatory rhetoric specifically targeting one racial demographic that comes from the Grand West Condominium’s Information Packet, which reads:
Why Grand West Condos is a new option for Chinese and Asian communities in Houston? It is synonymous with simple and high quality living?
Because Katy Asian Town is within walking distance! You can go to H-Mart to buy fresh food, as well as famous Asian-style restaurants, bakeries, etc., all with easy access and great Asian cuisine to satisfy any taste buds! In addition, the two new universities campuses will be your green backyard and it can also be a safe atmosphere! You can easily go to JCPenny for shopping, access Houston’s major highway 1-10 or TX-99, go to university that offers elective courses, and take your family and friends to the upcoming Andretti Large indoor entertainment center to play. This location has so many advantages that it allows you to fully meet six of life’s basic needs categories! Be worry free, save time and save money! As the area develops more, you’ll be able to enjoy even more amenities and business. This is a new option for a safe and simple Asian life in this circle! With its difference from the pure American style of ordinary high-end Condo products, this has become a Chinese-Western wall, and it has a more diversified advantage!
Based on the above details, the Plaintiffs have moved forward with their federal civil lawsuit against the Defendants: Re/Max LLC, Exp Realty, LLC, UMRE Investment Holdings, LLC, United Property Management, Cheng Cheng “Josie” Lin, and Grand West Condominiums, Grand West Residential Condominium Association, Inc, claiming they suffered compensatory, special, and punitive damages for the following:
- Extreme mental anguish and emotional distress because of being racially discriminated against by Defendants;
- Economic damages of approximately $2,000,000;
- Violation of Plaintiffs’ rights under the Fair Housing Act;
- Punitive damages for egregious acts and omissions of Defendants;
- Plaintiff is entitled to attorney’s fees for litigation of this matter; and
- Plaintiff requests and is entitled to a trial by jury.
The Plaintiffs are claiming that the Defendants’ actions were and are intentional, willful, reckless and in complete disregard of Plaintiffs’ federal rights, and that they discriminated against them by printing and publishing statements with respect to the sale of Units within the Grand West Condos that indicate a preference or limitation based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin and familial status, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act; discriminated against them by refusing to sell Units to Plaintiffs, or by otherwise refusing to make available for sale Units when such dwellings were in fact so available, because of their race, color, religion, familial status or national origin, or by an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act; discriminated against them by refusing to negotiate the unit prices with them due to their race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin, or by an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act; discriminated against them by adopting age requirements that were not already in place that have the intent and effect of making unavailable or denying housing in violation of the Fair Housing Act; and that the Defendants unlawfully coerced, intimidated, threatened, or interfered with Plaintiffs in the exercise of, or an account of, their having exercised or enjoyed, their rights granted or protected by the Fair Housing Act, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
According to James, he is not aware of whether the property was sold to someone else at the listed price or a negotiated price, but they left that up to their attorney to find out during discovery in the lawsuit he filed, along with his wife, and Rosemary.
James states his prayer and hope is that justice is served.
“I want Josie to be held accountable for her poor actions and decisions,” states James. “As of now, we are at a loss for a return on investment due to Josie preventing us from making a living. Misty and I have currently, ceased plans on developing our property adjacent to the Asian town because now we question if we may be “blackballed” by other groups after our experience with Josie. Investing is how my wife and I feed our children. This discrimination must cease immediately, and all parties involved must be reprimanded to the fullest extent of the law.”