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Second Circuit Holds That Obtaining Housing Is a Major Life Activity Under the Fair Housing Act

Heidi and Juan Rodriguez are the parents of A.R., who is now fourteen years old. A.R. was diagnosed with epilepsy, and experiences both petit and grand mal seizures, and has a pervasive developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. A.R. has an individualized education program (IEP) and takes multiple medications for her epilepsy.

After two years of renting a single-family home located in Saugerties, New York, the Rodriguez family learned from Village Green Realty that the property was up for sale, and that Blanca Aponte was the listing agent. Among other discriminatory acts, Ms. Aponte sent a series of text messages to Mrs. Rodriguez saying that her family had to vacate the property because of A.R.’s disabilities. While Aponte said that it was the buyer who wanted the family to leave the property, in truth the buyer had said no such thing, and Aponte had sent the text messages based on her belief that the property would be easier to sell without tenants.

The Rodriguezes filed suit in federal court against Coldwell Banker and Ms. Aponte under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). Applying the wrong standard to the threshold question of whether A.R. had a disability, the trial court judge ruled for the Defendants on all claims.

The firm appealed the trial court’s decision to the Second Circuit, and on June 2, 2015, the Second Circuit ruled for the Rodriguezes on all counts. The court held that: (1) the district court erred because there was sufficient evidence to establish that A.R. is disabled under the FHA, under both the “actually disabled” and “regarded as disabled” provisions; and (2) the FHA’s prohibition against discriminatory statements, found at 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c), may be violated even if the subject of the statements does not qualify as disabled under the FHA.

The court also decided two issues of first impression in the Second Circuit. First, the court held that, for the purposes of surviving summary judgment, non-medical evidence may be sufficient to show that an impairment is substantially limiting. Thus, courts must give proper credence to the testimony of parents, teachers, and other persons who are familiar with a person with disabilities. Second, the court held that obtaining housing is a major life activity. Therefore, if a person’s impairments limit her ability to live in a broad class of housing, she has established that she is a person with disabilities. The Second Circuit is only the second Court of Appeals to find that obtaining housing is a major life activity, and this holding represents a great victory for all people who seek to live in the housing of their choice, regardless of their actual or perceived disabilities.

The case caption is Rodriguez v. Village Green Realty, Inc., 788 F.3d 31 (2nd Cir. 2015). To read the Court’s Opinion, click here.