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REFUSAL TO GRANT REASONABLE MODIFICATION COSTS NEW MEXICO LANDLORD $200,000

On March 27, 2013, U.S. District Court Chief Judge M. Christina Armijo entered a Consent Order directing Michael Croom, an Albuquerque, New Mexico landlord, to pay $200,000 to Dereck Scott, a tenant who had sought reasonable modifications to make his home accessible. After developing multiple sclerosis in January 2011, Mr. Scott’s ability to walk quickly declined and within months he was forced to use a wheelchair. The single-family home he and his family were renting from Mr. Croom was inaccessible in many ways, including having narrow bathroom doorways that Dereck could not enter with his wheelchair. To use the toilet, Mr. Scott had to have his wife lift him from the chair into the bathroom. When his wife was not home, Mr. Scott had to use a small portable toilet he set up outside the door to the bathroom. In October 2011, the family sent a letter to Mr. Croom, requesting permission to make various modifications that had been recommended by an occupational therapist.

Mr. Croom refused to permit the modifications, stating that they would not “enhance the property” and telling Mr. Scott “not to debate my decision.” Mr. Croom also denied a second, narrower request for priority modifications, and then refused to renew the Scotts’ lease, forcing them to vacate their home just a few days before Christmas.

Relman, Dane & Colfax filed the case on behalf of Mr. Scott under the Fair Housing Act in June 2012. The U.S. Department of Justice later filed a companion case. In addition to the $200,000 payment to Mr. Scott, the settlement requires Mr. Croom to adopt an anti-discrimination policy, create procedures for addressing requests for reasonable accommodations and modifications, attend fair housing training, agree not to violate the fair housing laws in the future, and report on his compliance with the Consent Order.

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