MASON, MICH. - The Michigan Department of Civil Rights said Thursday that it has opened a complaint against the Mason man who has a “no foreigners” sign on his front lawn next to one reading "for sale by owner."
The five-word message — “Terms-No Foreigners-Iraq vet” — violates state and federal laws against discrimination based on national origin, a release from the department said.
“When an ad like this goes unchallenged, it sends a message to the community that such ads are legal and accepted,” said Civil Rights Director Agustin V. Arbulu.
Arbulu said it could wrongly encourage others to use similar language.
“The perception that a community accepts discrimination of this sort discourages potential purchasers from considering other properties in the area,” he said.
Homeowner James Prater referred questions to an attorney, Kristina Lyke of East Lansing, who wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Prater said in an earlier interview that he hasn't discriminated against anyone as he's had no offers. He's a former Army sergeant who did two tours in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
The sign was first reported in the Lansing State Journal on Aug. 4 after East Lansing Realtor Nancy Knupfer spotted the sign.
Several readers pointed to exemptions in the federal Fair Housing Act for private sales of property by individuals. In this case, Prater doesn’t have a real estate agent and is selling the home himself.
But state officials said that while there are exemptions for the sale of the property by private individuals in the anti-discrimination law, discriminatory advertising is not exempted under any circumstances. Besides the federal law, the state Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act also prohibits discrimination based on national origin.
Deputy Director Carol Viventi said in an email that remedies vary but may include “training and/or monetary penalties.”
Vicki Levengood, spokeswoman for the department, said in an email that the department initiated the complaint and also filed it with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The state has an agreement with HUD to investigate some housing discrimination complaints.
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