In January 2019, Relman Colfax settled a pioneering reasonable accommodations case under the Fair Housing Act on behalf of the Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania (“FHRC”).
The defendant in the case, Morgan Properties Management Company (“Morgan Properties”), a property management company with more than 35,000 rental units in 10 states, employed a policy of refusing to consider reasonable accommodation requests to alter the company’s typical first-of-the-month rent due date for disabled tenants whose SSDI checks arrived later in the month. The first-of-the-month rent due date posed particular challenges for SSDI recipients, who are unable to work as a result of their disabilities and receive their disability benefits on a fixed schedule, with checks arriving no sooner than the second Wednesday of the month.
FHRC first discovered that Morgan Properties was likely engaging in this discriminatory behavior when it received a complaint from a disabled Morgan Properties resident who relied on SSDI benefits to pay his rent, and was told Morgan Properties would not change the day his rent was due to coincide with his receipt of his SSDI benefit. Based on this resident’s experience, FHRC opened an investigation which confirmed that Morgan Properties was systemically refusing to consider changes to the rent due date as a reasonable accommodation for SSDI recipients.
In August 2016, the firm filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging that Morgan Properties had violated the reasonable accommodation and disability discrimination prohibitions under the Fair Housing Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
In three separate opinions—denying Morgan's motion for judgment on the pleadings, defendant's motion for summary judgment, and defendant's motion for certification for interlocutory appeal—U.S. District Judge Barclay Surrick repeatedly found that a landlord can violate the Fair Housing Act by maintaining a policy of refusing to consider the reasonable accommodation requests of disabled tenants or prospective tenants who seek to alter their rent due dates to correspond with the receipt of their disability benefits. In so doing, Judge Surrick reaffirmed that the Fair Housing Act permits consideration of a person’s disability-related financial circumstances in evaluating the necessity of a requested accommodation. This was the first case in federal court to receive a definitive ruling on the scope of the FHA’s protections with regards to this specific practice of refusing to consider reasonable accommodation requests.
The settlement agreement entered into by the parties ensures that Morgan Properties will provide reasonable accommodations for current tenants and qualified applicants who demonstrate a need for an adjustment from the first-of-the-month rent due date to correspond to the date on which the tenant receives their SSDI benefit check. As part of the settlement, Morgan Properties also agreed to a monetary payment of $480,000. The successful resolution of this case and the Court's multiple rulings reaffirms that housing providers may face FHA liability for failing to consider the reasonable accommodation requests of disabled tenants who need an accommodation, such as a different rent due date, to address their disability-related financial constraints.
The litigation team at Relman Colfax was led by Tara Ramchandani and Megan Cacace. The firm co-counseled with Rocco Iacullo from Disability Rights Pennsylvania.
Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Morgan Properties Management Company, LLC, No. 16-4677 (E.D. Pa.)