Relman, Dane & Colfax's fair housing practice has included some of the most important and groundbreaking housing discrimination cases filed in state and federal courts. The firm has brought a wide range of fair housing cases, including challenges to discrimination by landlords in the rental of apartments, discrimination by real estate agents and companies in the sale of housing, the discriminatory provision of services by municipalities and other governments, discrimination in the construction of residential buildings that are inaccessible to people with disabilities, and racial and sexual harassment of tenants by landlords. Our cases involve all classes of people protected under the fair housing laws, including race, national origin, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, marital status, source of income, and sexual orientation. In addition to representing individuals, groups of individuals, and classes of people harmed by housing discrimination, the firm frequently brings cases on behalf of fair housing groups and other public interest organizations that have received and investigated complaints of discrimination. The firm's fair housing lawyers are frequently asked to draft amicus briefs to federal appellate courts considering important legal issues under the nation's fair housing laws.
HUD Guidance Says Blanket Criminal History Bans Violate Fair Housing Act, Supporting Firm’s Claims in Fortune Society Litigation
Sapelo Island Descendants of Slaves File Discrimination Lawsuit
Second Circuit Holds That Obtaining Housing Is a Major Life Activity Under the Fair Housing Act
Relman, Dane & Colfax and Department of Justice Settle Housing Discrimination Claims for $850,000
Relman, Dane & Colfax Files Two Amicus Briefs in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project
Relman, Dane & Colfax Wins First Appellate Decision Holding that Intent not Required to Prove FHA Reasonable Accommodation and Reasonable Modification Claims
Advocacy Groups Settle Civil Rights Complaint Against State of New Jersey Involving Superstorm Sandy
Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review Article Analyzes HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule
Settlement Eliminates Discriminatory Local Residence Requirements
Complaints Filed Alleging Discrimination By Property Insurers
In June, 2014, Relman, Dane & Colfax filed two complaints against property/casualty insurers for alleged insurance discrimination based on race and disability. The claims allege that insurer restrictions on the number of Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) tenants who can live in the insured’s rental units have a disparate impact on these protected bases. HCV tenants are lower income, and receive rent subsidies from HUD to live in private market housing. In most urban communities, HCV tenants are disproportionately people of color or disabled. In one matter, the insurer (Lloyds of London) canceled the client’s insurance after the insurance inspector realized that HCV tenants lived in the property. In the other matter, the insurer (Great American) refused to renew the insurance of one housing provider and increased the premium of another due the presence of HCV tenants in their properties. To read the complaints click here and click here. To view the consent decree resolving one of the cases, click here.
National and Dallas Fair Housing Groups Settle Case Against Housing Developer
On June 20, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas approved the settlement of a housing discrimination lawsuit alleging disability discrimination by UDR, Inc., the designer and builder of several multifamily housing developments near Dallas, Texas.
The lawsuit, filed in September 2012 by the National Fair Housing Alliance and the North Texas Fair Housing Center, alleged that since at least 2007, UDR and its affiliates designed and/or constructed multifamily dwellings, and common- and public-use areas, without the accessibility features required by the Fair Housing Act.
Under the terms of the settlement, UDR will make major renovations to three apartment complexes in Texas and pay $87,000 as compensation and for attorney’s fees. It will also provide additional education about fair housing laws to current and future employees, and will provide notices to existing tenants of additional alterations that can be made at the tenant’s option, without cost to the tenant.
City Found Liable Under the ADA and the FHA For Failing to Accommodate Homeowner
On May 14, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio granted summary judgment to Bernita and Winston Vance on their claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act against the City of Maumee, Ohio. The Vances filed suit after the City refused to allow them to use a public right-of-way to access the rear of their home so that Mrs. Vance could avoid walking up 18 steps from the public street in the front of her home. The right-of-way in the rear had not been maintained by the City in several years, and neighbours had objected to the Vances use of it, so the City denied their request to use it and erected a temporary wooden barrier at its entrance, with threat of prosecution, so that Mr. Vance could not drive Mrs. Vance to her back door. To review the Complaint and the Court’s Order, click here.
Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against D.C. Housing Authority for Illegally Denying Sign Language Interpreters and Basic Services to People with Disabilities
On May 7, 2013, Relman, Dane & Colfax, along with the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the D.C. Housing Authority’s failure to provide sign language interpreters and equal access to Housing Authority programs and services to people with hearing impairments. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jacqueline Young and Latheda Wilson, both of whom rely on American Sign Language to communicate, and Deaf-REACH, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that people with hearing loss are equal participants in society. The complaint details how the Housing Authority has repeatedly denied interpreters to individuals with hearing impairments like Ms. Young and Ms. Wilson, forcing them to rely on notes, attempts at lip-reading, and gestures, without any effective means of communication. To read more and review the Complaint click here.
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. To read more and review the Complaint and Consent Order click here.
Federal Court Permits Design and Construction Claims Against Architect to Proceed on Continuing Violation Theory
On January 29, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia denied an architect's summary judgment motion on statute of limitations grounds, holding that the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) may proceed with claims that the architect is liable for violations of the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act at apartment buildings in North Carolina and South Carolina, even though the architect's work on one project ended more than two years before suit was filed. Read more.
Carter v. Housing Authority of the Town of Winchester
On August 1, 2012, on behalf of Crystal Carter and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center (“CFHC”), Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a federal lawsuit against the Housing Authority of the Town of Winchester, Connecticut (“WHA”) alleging that WHA discriminates against African Americans and Hispanics by imposing a “residency requirement” in its allocation of Section 8 housing choice vouchers.
Ms. Carter, who is an African-American single mother, contacted WHA to request a Section 8 voucher application, hoping for a chance to move her family into a safe, stable, high-opportunity area. Although WHA's Section 8 waiting list was open, WHA refused to send Ms. Carter an application, telling her that she was not eligible because she did not live in Winchester or one of sixteen neighboring towns, the populations of which are all overwhelming White and non-Hispanic. WHA also told Ms. Carter that Winchester was not on a “bus-line,” that there were no jobs there, and that it was in the “woods.” WHA told Ms. Carter to apply to other housing programs in communities with considerably larger African-American and Hispanic populations.
The CFHC conducted an investigation confirming that WHA precludes prospective applicants who do not already live in Winchester or a neighboring town from applying to, or becoming beneficiaries of, its Section 8 voucher program. The CFHC's investigation also revealed that WHA's residency requirement disproportionately affects African-Americans and Hispanics and perpetuates segregation in Winchester and the surrounding towns, prohibiting tens of thousands of income-eligible African-American and Hispanic households from participating in WHA's Section 8 program.
Whyte, et al. v. Alston Management, et al.
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 their households. After a four-day trial, the jury awarded both compensatory and punitive damages to the former residents of Pelican Lake Village, a 117-unit apartment complex located in Pahokee, Florida. The families were forced out because the landlord wanted to rent the complex to a prison ministry seeking to house sex offenders there. To read more about the case, click here.
Central Alabama Fair Housing Center, et al. v. Julie Magee, et al.
On November 18, 2011, Relman, Dane & Colfax, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, and LatinoJustice, filed a federal class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on behalf of three Alabama fair housing groups, two individual plaintiffs, and a class of victims, alleging that a provision of Alabama's anti-immigrant law, HB 56, violates the Fair Housing Act and the Supremacy and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and threatens to leave families across the state homeless. To read more about these cases, click here.
Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and Provident Realty v. St. Bernard Parish
On September 11, 2009, Relman, Dane & Colfax won its third motion for contempt in a year-long dispute against St. Bernard Parish and the St. Bernard Parish Council. The firm represented the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and Provident Realty Advisors, Inc. in opposing the Parish's continuing efforts to block Provident from building four mixed-income, affordable housing developments. The Court ordered the Parish to meet specific deadlines for approval of Provident's building permits, the final step necessary to begin construction, and ordered the imposition of sanctions of up to $10,000 per day if the Parish did not comply. For a copy of that opinion, click here. To read more about the case, click here.
On April 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new guidance stating that blanket bans on applicants with criminal histories likely violate the Fair Housing Act. Without an individualized assessment of each applicant’s circumstances, HUD says that such bans are likely to have a harsher, unjustified effect on people of color, who are more likely to have come into contact with the criminal justice system. The HUD guidance also makes clear that landlords cannot use mere arrests to deny applications. To read the Complaint, Guidance and Press Coverage click here.
Fifty-seven Sapelo Island property owners and other residents and two community organizations – Help Org Inc. and Raccoon Hogg Community Development Corporation – filed on December 9, 2015 a federal race discrimination lawsuit against McIntosh County, the state of Georgia, and the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority (SIHA). The families are descendants of Gullah-Geechee slaves who lived on the Georgia barrier island as far back as the 18th century. The lawsuit alleges that the county, state, and SIHA are engaged in a policy designed to make plaintiffs’ lives so uncomfortable that they abandon their homes and their land. “These actions are destroying the last intact Gullah-Geechee community in the country,” said Reed Colfax, the plaintiffs’ attorney and a partner in the civil rights law firm, Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC. “The county and state are depriving our clients of basic municipal services, limiting their access to their lands. In addition, the county tried to dramatically increase their taxes in an effort to force them off Sapelo Island, which their families have known as home for generations.” To read the Complaint click here and Press Release click here.
In a case of first impression in the circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has held that obtaining housing is a “major life activity” under the disability provisions of the Fair Housing Act. The court held that 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 court also held that, for purposes of surviving summary judgment, non-medical evidence may be sufficient in a Fair Housing Act case 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. To read more about the case and the Court’s Opinion, click here.
Plaintiffs in a major housing discrimination case against an Akron-Canton, Ohio area landlord have settled their claims for $850,000 and extensive injunctive relief. The Plaintiffs had filed the case under the federal and Ohio fair housing laws alleging that John Ruth, who owns and operates more than one hundred apartments in the Northeast, Ohio area, regularly discriminated against both African Americans and families with children. To read more and review the Proposed Consent Order click here.
Relman, Dane & Colfax has filed two briefs in the closely watched case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Case No. 13-1371. The Supreme Court is expected in that case to decide whether the Fair Housing Act allows for disparate impact liability. To read more and review the briefs, click here.
In the first appellate decision squarely addressing the issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has held that evidence of intent or pretext is not required to establish reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification claims under the Fair Housing Act. To read more about the case and the Opinion and Judgment click here.
Relman, Dane & Colfax is pleased to announce the resolution of an administrative complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which alleged that the State of New Jersey violated civil rights laws in the administration of its Superstorm Sandy recovery program. The Firm represented Latino Action Network, Fair Share Housing Center (FHSC) and NJ NAACP, and co-counseled the matter with FSHC. To read more about the case and the Settlement click here.
Relman, Dane & Colfax is pleased to announce the publication of a new article examining HUD’s February 2013 final rule interpreting the disparate impact standard under the Fair Housing Act. Authored by Michael Allen, Jamie Crook and John Relman and titled “Assessing HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule: A Practitioner’s Perspective,” the article appears in the Winter 2014 issue of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, available at http://harvardcrcl.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/HLC104.pdf.
Relman, Dane & Colfax is pleased to announce that its clients—Crystal Carter and Connecticut Fair Housing Center (CFHC)—have settled their housing discrimination case against the Winchester (Connecticut) Housing Authority (WHA). WHA has traditionally served 17 towns in northwestern Connecticut, a part of the state that is overwhelmingly White. This landmark settlement does away entirely with local residence requirements and preferences that discriminate on the basis of race and national origin. The Consent Decree, entered November 14, 2013, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, provides for comprehensive relief for Ms. Carter and for CFHC, and requires WHA to pay $350,000 in damages, attorney’s fees and costs. To read more and review the Complaint and Consent Order click here.