(10-02) 12:38 PDT OAKLAND -- An Oakland landlady who allegedly berated an African American tenant with racial slurs and told him that "you're not going to turn this place into a ghetto" must pay the man and his wife $31,000 in damages, a state civil rights agency has ruled.
The remarks - which the landlady has denied making - amounted to racial discrimination in housing, the Fair Employment and Housing Commission said in a ruling last week.
The tenant, Dante Lemons, said he was sitting on the front porch of the Maryland Apartments at 3301 Telegraph Ave. in the spring or early summer of 2005, listening to the radio, when apartment co-owner Marlene O'Neill told him no loitering was allowed. When Lemons pointed out that he lived there, he said, O'Neill, who is white, replied that he shouldn't be outside and was turning the place into a ghetto.
Lemons said he had brushed off the incident at his wife's suggestion. However, O'Neill said the same thing when she saw him on the front steps another time, swore at him and unplugged his radio, Lemons said.
When he saw the landlady arguing with another black tenant in November 2005 and refused her order to return to his apartment, Lemons said, O'Neill asked, "What's wrong with you people?" and used a racial slur.
Lemons and his wife, Chanel Williams, who also complained of abuse by O'Neill, moved out with their young son in December 2005, saying they felt harassed.
O'Neill, who represented herself before the state commission, testified that she had ordered Lemons off the porch but denied calling him names or mistreating him. The commission said, however, that two other tenants with no involvement in the dispute had confirmed Lemons' account.
The damages covered the couple's increased rent at their next apartment, $22,500 for emotional distress and a $5,000 penalty.
O'Neill, who now lives in Florida, repeated her denial of the allegations in an interview this week and said she may appeal the ruling in Superior Court.
"I'd been nothing but nice to this young couple," she said. "He (Lemons) called the race card."
E-mail Bob Egelko at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page B - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle