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Summer 2005 Fair Housing Case Decisions

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Issue 28, Summer 2005

Recent Fair Housing Case Decisions

Request for Transfer Mandated Reasonable Accommodation

An Ohio appellate court held that a tenant's request to be transferred to a larger unit because of her anxiety and claustrophobia required her landlord to make a reasonable accommodation under fair housing law. Shortly after moving into Manor Park Apartments, Ulah Garrison, represented by Legal Services attorneys, said that after being told that if she moved out she would be responsible for rent for the rest of the lease term, she twice asked the management to relocate her to a larger unit, because of her claustrophobia, but was told it would involve too much paperwork. Finally, on January 9, 2002 she submitted a notice of intent to vacate, citing anxiety attacks and claustrophobia as the reasons, and moved out January 31, with no rent balance. On January 16, 2004, the trial court entered a $2,990 judgment against her, rejecting her fair housing reasonable accommodation and failure to mitigate damages claims.

The appeals court found that Ms. Garrison had made 2 verbal and 1 written requests for a reasonable accommodation which Manor Park had a duty to consider, but did not. On the mitigation of damages question, the court said that "appellee did not offer appellant a reasonable accommodation after she requested one. Thus, appellee did not make reasonable efforts to mitigate it damages."(as required by Ohio law). For those reasons, the court reversed the trial court judgment, entered judgment in favor of Ms. Garrison, and remanded the question of damages on her claims.

A dissent criticized the majority opinion for not being sufficiently deferential to the trial court's finding, particularly about whether a request for a reasonable accommodation had been made and whether Manor Park knew or should have known that Ms. Garrison had a disability meeting the Fair Housing Act's definition. It also offered that "the duty to mitigate does not arise until after appellant breached the lease. The majority's opinion essentially penalizes appellee for not mitigating damages before damages even existed." While the majority opinion does not develop the basis for its result especially well, the result is very good and may be useful in handling reasonable accommodation cases. The case is Manor Park Apartments, LLC v. Garrison, 2005 WL 940871 (Ohio App. 11 Dist.)

Punitive Damages Awarded in Familial Status Discrimination Case

A federal judge in the Western District of Michigan recently awarded a plaintiff damages for emotional distress and punitive damages in a fair housing familial discrimination case. The case is Williams v. American Homestead Management, 2005 WL 1118118. The defendant landlord had refused to rent a one bedroom unit to Ms. Williams and her minor child under a policy that prohibited such rentals "because such circumstances could lead to improper or abusive conduct". Although it found that "the reasons behind the policy were sincere" and the defendant "was not motivated by an evil intent and did not act with callous indifference to" Ms. Williams' fair housing rights, the Court said the defendant should have known its policy was illegal [as a violation of the Fair Housing Act's prohibition against discrimination based on familial status], and so concluded that the defendants acted recklessly towards those rights in adopting and enforcing the policy. As a result, the Court awarded punitive damages of $5,000, noting that a defendant's conduct need not be egregious for it to be subject to such damages. The Court also concluded that Ms. Williams suffered humiliation and emotional distress because of the rejection of her application, and awarded her $5,000 for that injury. It also awarded economic damages to cover the increased cost of a subsequently rented apartment (and an additional month's rent at the former residence) and increased transportation costs. It may be worth noting that the judge, Gordon Quist, has a reputation of being fairly conservative

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