Fair Housing vs. Unfair Housing

Do you know the difference?

Knowing the difference between fair housing and unfair housing isn't as obvious as you might think. This blog aims to present a variety of important and interesting fair housing issues.

If you're an apartment professional, avoid costly mistakes by reading the stories of others who — even with good intentions — learned compliance lessons the hard way. (For the easy way, click here.)

If you live in an apartment, get familiar with your rights when it comes to housing discrimination, as well as your options for seeking justice.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paying Dearly for Fair Housing Violations, Despite Good Intentions

You might think that a housing provider that markets itself to people with severe disabilities wouldn't likely be the defendant in a lawsuit alleging violation of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination.

But not only has such a provider — New Horizons Village of Unionville, Connecticut — been the subject of a disability-discrimination complaint, it has now reached a settlement with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center (CFHC) and the State of Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, agreeing to pay a whopping $600,000 in damages and attorneys' fees to a former tenant who claimed the provider's policies were discriminatory.

The tenant's issue was with New Horizons' policy of reviewing applicants' medical records to determine whether they can live independently, according to CFHC. The tenant argued that this policy amounts to illegal discrimination based on the type and severity of a disability. Earlier this year, a federal court agreed, holding that using applicants' medical records to decide which ones are "too disabled" to live independently is discriminatory. The court also noted that New Horizons further discriminated by sharing applicants' private medical information with other tenants.

In addition to the monetary part of the settlement, New Horizons has agreed to revise its tenancy requirements and no longer request applicants' private medical records. Going forward, New Horizons will reportedly determine the need for personal care assistance on a case-by-case basis, and requests for additional personal care assistance by applicants and tenants will be treated as requests for reasonable accommodations under the FHA.

Regarding New Horizons' seemingly good intentions, Judge Janet Bond Arterton, who issued the federal court's opinion, pointed out that "[a] discriminatory housing practice is still unlawful even if made with good intentions if it denies housing to individuals with disabilities based on their disabilities." Laflamme et al. v. New Horizons, Inc. et al., 605 F. Supp. 2d 378 (D. Conn. 2009) (emphasis added).

How much do you think good intentions should count in a fair housing defense? When it comes to alleged violations of the FHA's ban on disability-based discrimination, should a housing provider be treated more favorably if its mission is to help people with severe disabilities?

What do you think?

1 comment:

Heather Blume said...

It's not about intent, it's about interpretation. From a legal standpoint, that's the bottom line to it. From a moral/belief/ethical/whatever you want to call it stand point, I offer up a small phrase that a college professor of mine once told me: "When you pity people, you dis-empower them." It's not right to take away someone's choices. If they can't do it, they'll let you know, otherwise, you have to respect both them and the law. Good intentions can still make people feel terrible.