HOA Pays $150,000 in Discrimination Settlement

In August of last year, a condominium association in Florida and their former management company agreed to settle a fair housing claim for $150,000.

The claim arose because a family with six children alleged that they were discriminated against by the community’s occupancy limits.

When the family moved into the 249 unit townhome community, they were not notified of any restrictions, however, after moving into the four bedroom unit they had rented, they were told that there was a “problem with having eight occupants in the home” and were threatened with eviction.

Apparently, at the time, the rules said only six people could live in a four bedroom unit with equally restrictive rules for three and two bedroom units.  Eventually, the family moved out, but the story didn’t end there.

Following an investigation by HUD, the Justice Department sued the HOA and their company in federal court claiming that they had “engaged in a pattern of practice of violating fair housing by adopting, maintaining, ratifying and along with the management company, enforcing overly restrictive occupancy standards”.

Later, while the lawsuit was still pending, the HOA updated its occupancy limits to allow four occupants in two-bedroom townhomes, six occupants in three-bedroom townhomes and eight occupants in four-bedroom townhomes and requested that the judge dismiss the case after these modifications had been made.  However, the court refused to grant their request and the lawsuit went forward.

According to the Community Association Management Insider, under the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay $45,000 to the family that filed the complaint, $85,000 into a fund to compensate other alleged victims and $250,000 in civil penalties.  In addition, the settlement prohibits the association and its management company from discriminating in the future against families with children and requires them to receive training on fair housing requirements.

Ignorance is no defense in these Fair Housing cases.  “Twenty-plus years of HUD guidance and cases have put housing providers on notice that occupancy standards which unfairly limit or exclude families with children violate the Fair Housing Act,” Bryan Greene, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement.  “HUD and the Department of Justice are committed to making sure that all people have equal access to the housing for which they financially qualify.”

The question that landlords around the country should ask themselves is this – would you rather voluntarily take some fair housing training and put in place some simple practices to protect yourself, or would you prefer to have the court mandate that training on top of a six figure fine?

Words Cost Landlords $76,000!

[Editor’s Note:  In another case last year, (U.S.A. v Hylton) a couple was awarded monetary damages by the courts in Connecticut.  The complaint alleged that the landlords made discriminatory statements to their tenants about being a mixed-race couple.  They also made statements about the race of their prospective subtenant refusing to allow them to sublet the home to an African American woman and her children because they did not want “too many Blacks” at the property”.  This was a blatant disregard for both the law and other’s civil rights and could have been avoided with proper education and abiding by all federal fair housing laws. Those were some very expensive words punishable by law that cost the landlords $76,000.00!]

Reprinted with permission of the Rental Housing Journal of Utah.

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