Jump to Navigation

Jury Awards Over $1.04 Million to Fair Housing Act Plaintiffs

On February 7, 2012, a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida awarded more than $1 million to seven families discriminatorily forced from their Central Florida homes because they had children living in the households. After a four-day trial, the jury awarded both compensatory and punitive damages to the individual families and to the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, Inc, which had assisted the families bring their claims.

The families were residents of Pelican Lake Village, a 117-unit apartment complex located in Pahokee, Florida, a small town in northwestern Palm Beach County. In late 2008, the Pelican Lake Village landlord and a prison ministry struck a deal allowing the ministry to lease the entire property and rent units to recently released sex offenders. The sex offenders could not live close to the school bus stop used by children in the complex, but the school district would not move the stop while children lived at the complex. In response, the landlord and prison ministry simply began to force all of the families with children to move out.

In mid-December, 2008, the landlord sent notices to the families stating that "IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN LIVING OR STAYING IN THE APARTMENT UNDER THE AGE OF 18 YEARS OLD, YOU WILL HAVE TO VACATE THE PROPERTY BEFORE JANUARY 1st, 2009." At the same time, the prison ministry employees knocked on families' doors instructing them to leave. The campaign worked and all seven plaintiff families (as well as other families with children) moved out of Pelican Lake Village.

Earlier in the case, the Court had found that most of the Defendants' actions violated the Fair Housing Act's prohibition against familial status discrimination and the jury also answered all remaining liability questions in favor of the Plaintiffs. The jury awarded specific compensatory damages amounts to plaintiffs based on their trial testimony describing what their homes had meant to them and the difficulties they faced when forced to leave. In addition, a little over half of the jury's award consisted of punitive damages.