October 19, 2004
HUD CHARGES ILLINOIS APARTMENT COMPLEX IN CAROL STREAM WITH VIOLATION OF FAIR HOUSING ACT
Chateau Village Apartments refused to accommodate woman with cervical and spinal disorders
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said today it has charged an Illinois apartment complex, Chateau Village Apartments, its management company, Banner Property Management, and property manager Anita Zubor, with violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to accommodate the request of a woman with a disability to be transferred to a larger apartment that was easier to access.
Wendy Walsh, a woman with cervical and spinal disorders that substantially limited her ability to walk without crutches, determined that her first-floor apartment was too difficult for her to access due to 16 steps she had to negotiate. Walsh also needed additional space to store her therapeutic and exercise equipment.
With the assistance of the HOPE Fair Housing Center, Walsh wrote a letter to Chateau Village describing her problem and requested a transfer from a one-bedroom unit to a more accessible two-bedroom unit when one became available. The DuPage Housing Authority, who had provided Ms. Walsh a flexible rental voucher, had determined that Walsh's letter and doctors' notes sufficiently demonstrated a need for additional space to store her therapeutic and exercise equipment. As a result, the Housing Authority awarded her a two-bedroom voucher.
Chateau Village's property manager, Zubor, denied the request for transfer and refused to place Walsh on a waiting list for a two-bedroom unit. The investigation showed that prior to Walsh's request for a transfer, Chateau Village had allowed other tenants to transfer units. Moreover, Zubor allegedly wrote, "No landlord is required to accept a DuPage Housing voucher. Chateau Village Apartments only takes DuPage Housing vouchers for those whom already live here and stay in place in the same apartment."
"Changing apartments would have meant four steps for this individual to negotiate rather than 16 steps," said Carolyn Peoples, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "For a person with a mobility impairment, that is a world of difference. The Fair Housing Act is here to right injustices like this."
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodation may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. The Fair Housing Act also prohibits a housing provider from imposing different terms or conditions on a tenant because of his or her disability or refusing to rent to someone on that basis.
A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on January 11, 2005, unless either the complainant or respondent elect to have the case decided by a federal judge in U.S. District Court. An election to go to district court must be made by October 26, 2004.
Housing discrimination charges heard before an ALJ carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense in addition to actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees. Sanctions can be more severe if the respondent has a history of housing discrimination and if either party elects to go to federal district court, either party may request a jury trial and punitive damages.
In either forum, a United States Department of Housing and Urban Development attorney or a Department of Justice attorney brings the case on behalf of the complainant. Each party has the right to be represented by his or her own attorney. HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development as well as enforces the nation's fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet and espanol.hud.gov.
People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777. Additional information is available at www.usdoj.gov.
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