HUD No. 05-176
Antoinette P. Banks
December 21, 2005
HUD CHARGES HOUSTON LANDLORDS, APARTMENT OWNERS WITH A VIOLATION OF FAIR HOUSING ACT
Woman with disabilities denied first-floor apartment
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it has charged Pasadena, Texas apartment-building owner Charles V. Miller, Jr., and manager Dana Goss, with violating the Federal Fair Housing Act by not affording Michele Cari, a mobility-impaired tenant, an accessible first-floor apartment. Property owners Southmore Park Apartments, Ltd., CVM Interests, Inc., Leisure Life Management, Leisure Life, Inc., are also being charged in the case.
In Sept., 2003, Cari, who has several medically-disabling conditions, including scoliosis, hepatitis C, chronic fatigue syndrome, and back pain, leased an upstairs unit at Southmore Park Apartments, a seniors' retirement community. When signing her lease application Cari made an an employee of Leisure Life Management aware of her disability and requested a downstairs unit when one became available. During her move in, she got permission from Miller, the owner of the apartments, to use the freight elevator because of her disabilities.
On numerous occassions between Dec. 2003 and August of 2004, the elevator was inoperable for periods up to a month and a half. During the time the elevator was out of order Cari notified management about the inoperable elevator and again requested to be transferred to a downstairs unit.
HUD's investigation confirmed that, at least as early as March 2004, Cari informed Goss and Miller that she had requested a downstairs unit at the time of move-in. Management told Cari that the cost for a transfer would be a nonrefundable fee of $300, a pet fee of $300 and a deposit of $100, in addition to the deposit and pet fee previously placed on her initial unit.
Later, in June 2004, Cari's mobility was further impaired when she broke her ankle and required a wheelchair to get around. Because the elevator was broken again, Cari was confined to her unit. She again requested a first-floor unit to no avail.
Cari contacted HUD about the problem that same month and sought a medical diagnosis that confirmed the necessity for a downstairs unit. On August 15, 2004, Cariprovided the apartment complex with a written request for reasonable accommodation and the medical diagnosis.
Despite five downstairs units being available between March 2004 and December 2004, Cari was not offered a first-floor apartment until September 16, 2004. When offering the apartment, Goss provided Cari with a letter stating that management would allow her to move and it would waive the transfer fee ($300), but would still require the additional pet deposit of $300 and the additional deposit of $100 within three days. Cari was unable to pay the requested fees within three business days, and therefore, was not allowed to transfer.
"It is hard to understand why a seniors complex is unwilling to help someone maintain their independence by simply switching apartments, particularly when first-floor apartments were available," said Kim Kendrick, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "Ms.Cari was essentially held captive in her apartment, unable to leave to buy groceries, or to let her dog out. No one should be subjected to this type of disregard."
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on seven bases: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under 18) and disability.
A hearing on the charges will be held by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge on March 6, 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 January 9, 2005.
Housing discrimination charges heard before an ALJ carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 for a first offense - more if the respondent has committed prior violations of the Act - plus actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees.
Should either party elect to go to district court, either party may request a jury trial. A district court may award the damages available in an administrative proceeding, and may also award punitive damages.
In either forum, the case is brought on behalf of the complainant, and the complaint is enforced by an attorney from HUD before a U.S. Administrative Law Judge or by an Assistant United States Attorney or an attorney from the U.S. Department of Justice in federal district court. Also, 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 or DOJ www.usdoj.gov.