Latino families file federal discrimination lawsuit against City of Richmond

Latino families file federal discrimination lawsuit against City of Richmond

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - More than two dozen Latino families have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the City of Richmond.  The families claim the city's code enforcement campaign against mobile home parks violates their civil rights.

City inspectors have been focusing in on Rudd's Trailer Park on Jefferson Davis Highway since last year, and are now taking a look at home in Mobiletown Trailer Park on Old Midlothian Turnpike. At least 20 homes have been condemned at Rudd's Trailer Park.  Advocates say the families were left homeless and now the remaining families say they the fear of losing their home is something they deal with every day.  Most of the families are Latino and claim city officials are targeting them.

"The requirements were vague and unreasonable, the process of getting city permits and approval was way more complicated then it should have," says Olivia Leon Vetervo. The 19-year-old has served as her community's main translator throughout the whole ordeal. She says it's taken an emotional toll on her.

Meanwhile, residents at Mobiletown are posting notices that inspectors are not welcome inside their homes.

Now 33 people from mostly Latino families have filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Richmond and its building officials.

"For the past year and a half, the City of Richmond has abused its code enforcement authority in an aggressive campaign fueled by threats, intimidation and illegal requirements," says Phil Storey with the Legal Aide Justice Center.

City officials say there are hundreds of safety violations.  But the lawsuit claims even when families made efforts to make changes, homes were still condemned and families were left homeless.

"I would like to comply with the maintenance code, I have no interest in doing things wrong," says Gerardo Martinez-Fonseca who lives in Mobiletown.  "But the inspectors should come in a more civilized way, not with threats or with policemen.

The lawsuit also says: repairs cost thousands of dollars, but were not required by code; the city violated civil rights laws by not providing adequate translators to help understand complicated documents that were only in English, and there are claims of intimidation by using armed police officers, threats to condemn homes or bring criminal charges.

When NBC12 asked for comment a city spokesperson said, "The City has a policy of not commenting on matters pending litigation."

This lawsuit is filed in federal court, city officials will now be served.  There should be another update in just a few weeks.  There are nine mobile home parks in the City of Richmond. Lawyers say 70 percent of the residents in those mobile home parks are Latino.

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