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01/09/89 Lin Hsi Hsu Et Al., v. the Human Rights

January 9, 1989





536 N.E.2d 732, 180 Ill. App. 3d 949, 129 Ill. Dec. 682 1989.IL.1

Petition for review of order of Illinois Human Rights Commission.


JUSTICE BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court. MANNING, P.J., and CAMPBELL, J., concur.


This appeal arises from a housing discrimination complaint filed in the Illinois Department of Human Rights by Eva and Michael Horton against Lin Hsi Hsu and Han Cheng Hsu. On July 3, 1986, the Human Rights Commission (Commission) entered an order finding that the Hsus' denial of rental housing to the Hortons was motivated by racial discrimination, thereby reversing a prior order of an administrative law Judge. Damages and attorney fees were subsequently assessed against the Hsus, and they now appeal. We affirm.

The following testimony was presented on September 4, 1984, before the administrative law Judge of the Commission. On March 21, 1983, complainants Eva and Michael Horton, a black couple, responded to an ad in the Chicago Tribune offering for rent a single-family, five-bedroom dwelling at 7879 Northway Drive, Hanover Park, Illinois. After telephoning the owners of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Hsu, who are Chinese, the Hortons went to see it. They claim that when Mrs. Larkin, the white tenant, opened the door, she "hesitated" or "paused" for a few seconds with her mouth agape. She then left the couple waiting in the front hallway for about five minutes before showing the house.

Later that day, Mr. Horton phoned Mr. Hsu, expressed his interest in the house, and asked to fill out an application. When asked if the house was too large for him, Mr. Horton replied "no" because he currently owned a large home. He testified that Mr. Hsu told him he would call him back that evening, but when Hsu failed to do so, Horton called him a few days later and again expressed his desire to fill out an application for the house. After discussing the rent and Horton's income, Hsu agreed to meet him on Saturday, March 26, at 6 p.m. at the Horton's home in Carol Stream.

On that Saturday, according to Horton, Hsu called him at 8 p.m., told him he got lost, and that, in any event, he had made a "judgment" to rent the house to another family. When Horton found out that the advertisement was still in the paper on Monday, March 28, he felt that he had been discriminated against, as did his wife after she learned on Saturday evening that the house had been rented. On cross-examination, Horton admitted that Hsu would have no way of knowing he was black unless told by his tenant.

Mr. Hsu denied that his decision not to rent to the Hortons was based on their race. He stated that during his first conversation with Mr. Horton, he was told that the couple only had a grandchild living with them. Hsu testified that he preferred to rent the house to a large family as they were less likely to be dissatisfied with the high utility bills and the upkeep of a large home. He explained that he did not make definite arrangements with the Hortons at that time because after discussing the rent, he thought the Hortons would want to look at the house again. When Mr. Horton called a second time, Hsu told him it was not his practice to take applications as he only owned one rental property, but he did agree to meet the Hortons on Saturday. He had previously made appointments to meet the Muhatims, an Indonesian family having four adults and three children, at 5 p.m., and the Zahitas, a white family of three, at 7 p.m. on that same Saturday.

While meeting with the Muhatims at a hotel in downtown Chicago, the Hsus orally agreed to rent to them for $600 per month rather than the $650 advertised rate. Mr. Hsu testified that he left the Muhatims at 6 p.m., and arrived at a gas station near Carol Stream at 6:30 or 7 p.m. at which time he called the Hortons because he was lost. When Hsu received a busy signal, he proceeded to the Zahita household, where he stayed for 30 minutes. He did not inform the Zahitas until the next day that the dwelling had been rented.

On Monday, March 28, the Hsus received a $100 deposit from Mr. Muhatim. By a document of the same date, the Hsus entered into a lease agreement with the Muhatims to commence April 1, 1983, although the Muhatims requested that the term of the lease not start until May 1, 1983.

After hearing the above testimony, the administrative law Judge (hereinafter ALJ) issued a recommended order and decision in favor of the Hsus (hereinafter respondents). Despite his finding that certain actions of respondents "[cried] out for an explanation," the ALJ refused to impute knowledge of the Hortons' (hereinafter complainants') race to respondents. The Judge stated:

"In opposition to the flimsy circumstantial evidence that the tenant advised Respondent of Complainants' race, Respondent Lin Hsi Hsu testified, credibly, that he did not know of Complainants' race at any relevant time. Thus, I must conclude that Complainant has not proven by a preponderance of the ...

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