Bank of America intentionally failed to maintain homes it foreclosed on in black and Latino neighborhoods across dozens of U.S. markets, while consistently caring for similar properties in white neighborhoods, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week.
The National Fair Housing Alliance and other housing groups accuse the Charlotte-based bank of violating the federal Fair Housing Act with discriminatory conduct affecting 37 metropolitan areas. The suit, filed in Maryland, also names Bank of America contractor Safeguard Properties Management.
In a statement, Bank of America said the allegations are without merit. Safeguard said in a statement it does not condone or tolerate acts of discrimination, and accused the Housing Alliance of waging a continued attack on the company.
The Housing Alliance said a multiyear investigation of more than 1,600 homes that Bank of America took possession of revealed a glaring pattern of discriminatory conduct.
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In neighborhoods of color, evidence was found of consistently poor exterior maintenance, including overgrown grass, unsecured doors and windows, damaged steps and handrails, graffiti and dead animals in yards, according to the lawsuit.
"Bank of America-owned homes in predominantly white working- and middle-class neighborhoods are far more likely to have the lawns mowed and edged regularly, invasive weeds and vines removed, windows and doors secured or repaired, debris and trash removed, leaves raked, and graffiti erased from the property," the Housing Alliance said.
None of the metro areas cited in the suit were in the Carolinas.
Bank of America said it applies uniform practices to the management and marketing of vacant bank-owned properties across the U.S., regardless of location.
Safeguard said it does not permit business practices that would unfairly target or neglect certain neighborhoods based on location and demographics.
It said its primary focus includes protecting client properties from decay, and performing its services in a high-quality manner. It also accused the Housing Alliance of repeatedly making "ill-conceived and disingenuous" allegations.
It's the latest allegations of discrimination against Bank of America by the Housing Alliance, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that fights housing discrimination.
The suit comes after Bank of America and the Housing Alliance reached a settlement in May of last year over claims of discrimination against prospective Hispanic mortgage borrowers in Charleston. Terms of the agreement included that the bank would donate $100,000 in down-payment and closing-cost assistance for Latino homebuyers in the Charleston area.
The alliance, in a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, claimed the bank failed to provide the borrowers with information about loans, or offered them loans with less attractive terms compared with prospective borrowers who were not Hispanic. HUD then charged the bank and two of its employees with violating the Fair Housing Act.
In reaching the agreement last year, Bank of America rejected the allegations in the complaint.
The latest suit also follows a HUD complaint filed by the alliance and other housing groups against Bank of America in 2012 alleging it maintained foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods better than those in black and Latino neighborhoods. That complaint is pending with HUD, the lawsuit says.