In a press release issued last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved a settlement agreement concluding a disability housing discrimination complaint against the owners and property managers at a community in Pennsylvania. The total amount to be paid by the Respondents is $80,000. In their complaint, two residents asserted that management failed to approve their reasonable accommodation requests for a reserved parking space, did not permit them to transfer to a first floor home, and that management retaliated against the residents for exercising their rights under the Fair Housing Act.

The case began when the two residents with mobility issues complained that their property management staff refused to permit them to move to a ground floor unit as well as denied their request for a reserved parking space because of their respective disabilities. The residents further asserted that members of the management team retaliated against them for making the reasonable accommodation requests as management moved them to a unit that was claimed to be “substandard” and that management threated to evict them. Furthermore, after being made aware of the concerns, a local fair housing group conducted tests at the housing community which tended to show that the leasing office team would not permit testers (posing as disabled applicants) to be assigned designated parking spaces. As a part of the settlement, both the property owners and managers denied the allegations of discrimination.

Although the agreement does not identify how the settlement fund is to be split between the residents, counsel, and the fair housing group, the owners/managers agreed to pay $80,000 to end the case. As is common in fair housing agreements, the Respondents also promised to develop an equal housing opportunity policy, a reasonable accommodation policy, and to have their representatives with direct leasing responsibilities at the property and/or authority to grant or deny reasonable accommodation requests attend fair housing training.

Although the agreement is light on specific facts, the $80,000 settlement amount is larger than a typical garden variety discrimination case. It is certainly possible that the retaliation claims helped push that amount higher. Also, HUD did not provide any details concerning the number of tests. The takeaway here is that professional apartment management must review and evaluate all reasonable accommodation requests and have a policy in place that follows the law. And even if you decide the request is not appropriate and should not be granted, do your best to ensure no resident can claim he or she was retaliated against because of the accommodation request or because they filed a discrimination complaint. These are hot button issues for HUD fair housing investigators.

Just A Thought.