HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No.00-185
Further Information: For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685 Friday
Or contact your local HUD office July 28, 2000


WASHINGTON - A wheelchair-using man denied housing in East Moline, IL will have his day in court, thanks to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo said today that the federal housing agency has charged John and Gloria Strieter with violating the Fair Housing Act when they refused to rent an apartment to Tara and Randy Upton because Mr. Upton uses a wheelchair. The Strieters, doing business as Strieter Corp., are the owner/managers of the Hillgate Apartments located on 42nd Ave., East Moline.

"Living with a disability can be difficult enough without the added burden of being denied housing," Cuomo said. "We must ensure that every American family can live in any home and in any neighborhood they can afford."

In their complaint, the Uptons said they were referred to Hillgate Apartments in October 1998 by a friend who lives in the apartment complex and uses a wheelchair. Mrs. Upton said that when she called the rental office she was told by an employee that, "Our doorways are not wheelchair accommodating."

Mrs. Upton replied that they knew a resident who installed a ramp to get her wheelchair in and out of the building. Mrs. Strieter then got on the phone and confirmed that wheelchairs were not permitted, but said that she would discuss the matter with her husband.

Later that same day, Mrs. Strieter telephoned Mrs. Upton and informed her that when the other resident had moved into Hillgate, it was under different management, but that their policy was "no wheelchairs."

Because Mrs. Upton is deaf and used the Illinois TTY Relay Service to make phone calls, transcripts exist of the phone conversations confirming the Uptons’ account. Mr. Strieter told HUD investigators that he has a "no wheelchairs" policy because he believes the building doors are too narrow and the rooms too small to navigate from a wheelchair.

"My husband and I thought we could live near our friend," Mrs. Upton said. "Instead, we were disheartened to hear so many excuses why we could not live there – even that Randy’s wheelchair might damage the carpet padding! There is no excuse for turning me and my husband away, and we hope that this case will help other families like us to obtain the housing that they deserve."

The Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968, was broadened by Congress in 1988 to outlaw housing discrimination against people with disabilities. It also bars housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, family status and national origin. The Act covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of most of the nation’s housing. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and local agencies working with HUD, and private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds.

The Hillgate Apartments, built in the 1960s, is not required to be handicap accessible under the 1988 Fair Housing Act amendments. However, the Act does not permit landlords to discourage individuals with disabilities from applying to rent apartments. Under the Act, a landlord must permit a tenant with a disability, at the tenant's expense, to make reasonable modifications to the premises to enable the tenant to fully use and enjoy the dwelling.

In some cases, the tenant may be required to restore the unit’s interior to its original condition at the lease’s end, reasonable wear and tear excepted. If a tenant needs to make modifications to the public and common uses areas of the property (for example, an access ramp and railings at the building entrance), the tenant must pay for the modifications and may be required to ensure that it is performed in a workmanlike manner.

Housing discrimination charges filed against landlords carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 -- providing there are no prior violations of the Act -- plus actual damages, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees if the case is heard before an administrative law judge. If either party requests a trial in federal district court, a federal judge could award a maximum civil penalty of $50,000. Punitive damages may also be awarded.

HUD has in recent years increased its enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. Sec. Cuomo noted, however, that HUD efforts to combat housing discrimination will stagnate if Congress fails to provide the increased funding requested by the President. The President has asked Congress for $50 million for HUD’s anti-discrimination office, a 14 percent increase above this year’s $44 million. The House of Representative’s version of the HUD 2001 budget does not include any new funding for fair housing programs, and the Senate has yet to vote on HUD appropriations.

Note to editors:

People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.


Content Archived: December 13, 2009