Friday, May 29, 2015

Tennessee HOA Agrees To Pony Up $156K To Settle Disability Discrimination Allegations That It Failed To Permit Reasonable Accommodation To Homeowner/Couple By Preventing Them From Building Therapeutic Space Onto Home For Their Two Kids w/ Down Syndrome

In Franklin, Tennessee, The Tennessean reports:
  • A Franklin homeowners association has agreed to pay $156,000 to parents who said they were unfairly barred from building a therapeutic space for their two children with Down syndrome.

    The specially designed sun room would have been a place for Charles and Melanie Hollis' young kids to play and receive physical therapy, but the Chestnut Bend Homeowners Association denied their request to construct it based on concerns about the way the addition would look, a 2012 federal lawsuit alleged.

    That, the lawsuit said, constituted discrimination and a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for agencies to turn down what are called "reasonable modifications" that make it possible for residents with disabilities to more fully enjoy their homes.

    "I think what this case signifies is that there are limits to (a homeowners association's) authority over the aesthetics of a reasonable modification," said Tracey McCartney, executive director of the Tennessee Fair Housing Council(1) and an attorney who represented the Hollises. "Their ability to veto something based on how it looks is somewhat abrogated when you're talking about the needs of a family with disabilities."

    The Hollises first applied to build the sun room in 2011, according to the complaint. For much of that year, the document says, the family went back and forth with the homeowners association's architectural review committee over proper materials and design.

    "Each time additional information was requested ... the Hollises complied with the request," the lawsuit says, "each time their plans were rejected and their application summarily denied."

    Frustrated, the family sold their house at a loss and moved out of the neighborhood, the complaint says.

    The homeowners association and the property management company that works with the subdivision's board have denied wrongdoing. And the settlement is not an admission that the Hollises' claims of discrimination were founded.

    However, as part of a deal that dropped Westwood Property Management from the lawsuit, the company agreed to provide its employees with fair housing training and develop a written fair housing policy to help guide its future homeowners association clients.

    McCartney said she hoped the agreement would shed light on the need for property managers — particularly ones hired to work with elected or volunteer homeowners association boards and committees — to clearly understand housing rights.

    "One thing (homeowners associations typically) have in common, unfortunately, is that the decision-makers are not professional real estate people — they're not required to have any sort of training," she said. "What I think is inexcusable is for a professional management company not to have fair housing training."
For more, see Franklin HOA settles suit after denying room for disabled kids.

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(1)Tennessee Fair Housing Council is a private, non-profit advocacy organization whose mission is to eliminate housing discrimination throughout Tennessee. Its enforcement program is based in Nashville and concentrates on Davidson, Cheatham, Dickson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties.

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