Sunday, June 19, 2016

Managing Agent Slammed w/ Court Order To Cough Up Over $44K For Violating Fair Housing Act After Refusal To Rent Single Family Home To Tenant w/ Mental Disabilities; Said Landlord “Did Not Want A Bipolar In The House"

From the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (Washington, D.C.):
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) [] announced that a HUD Administrative Law Judge ruled against a northern Minnesota landlord charged with refusing to rent an apartment to prospective tenants because of their disabilities. Landlord Deane Woodard of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota was ordered to pay $27,000 to one woman,(1) a $16,000 civil penalty,(2) and $1,000 in other court sanctions. Read the ruling.

    The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling on the basis of disability. Housing providers may not refuse to rent to persons with disabilities.
    ***
    In August 2015, HUD charged property manager Deane Woodard with making discriminatory statements to a prospective tenant and her roommate, and refusing to rent a home in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota to them because they have mental disabilities. In an order earlier this year, the Administrative Law Judge found that Woodard had violated the Fair Housing Act.

    Prior to learning about the prospective tenants’ mental disabilities, he had agreed to rent to them and had even provided them with a key to the house. However, when the woman, her parents, and her roommate drove to the house to give the manager a security deposit and begin the process of moving in, Mr. Woodard told the group that the woman and her friend could not rent the property because of their disabilities. Among other statements, the manager told the women that the ownerdid not want a bipolar in the house.”
    ***
    People who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple and Android devices.
Source: HUD Administrative Law Judge Rules Against Minnesota Landlord Charged With Discriminating Against Persons With Disabilities.

For the ruling of the HUD ALJ, see Secretary of HUD v. Woodard, 15-AF-0109-FH-013 (May 9, 2016).
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(1) According to the court ruling, the amount pocketed by the complaining tenant ($27,122.67) breaks down as follows:
  • $ 5,000 for lost housing opportunity,
  • $1,594.67 for the extra time and money associated with her longer commute from her new apartment (an extra 26 minutes per day commuting to and from work for just under one year),
  • $528 for her time spent participating in the prosecution of this case (33 hours x $16/hour), and
  • $20,000 for emotional distress damages.
(2) A $16,000 civil penalty was the most the court could impose when belting a first-time offender in this type of case. Part of the court's rationale for hitting up the managing agent with the maximum follows ("Respondent" refers to the managing agent):
  • Respondent's behavior merits imposition of a maximum civil penalty. The outright refusal to rent is arguably the most egregious form of fair housing violation, as it completely denies an individual a valuable housing opportunity.

    Respondent's actions are particularly severe in this case because they came late in the rental process. Complainant already had the keys to the property, and was mere minutes away from beginning the move-in process. She had no reason to suspect Respondent would block her path, literally at the front door. She thus had no opportunity to psychologically prepare for the shock and disappointment she experienced.

    Moreover, Respondent made his discriminatory comments directly to her or in her presence. He has shown no remorse for his conduct. If his brief communications with the Court are any indication, Respondent still does not believe he has done anything improper. A maximum penalty is necessary to impress upon him the severity of his misconduct.
    ***
    Maximum penalties should be reserved for the most egregious cases and imposed where needed to vindicate the public interest. In this case, although a first offender, Respondent has thumbed his nose at the system with regard to the prosecution of this case. He has refused to participate in these legal proceedings, other than mailing a handful of hastily written notes to HUD Counsel and the Court.

    He failed to appear for his deposition, causing HUD to waste taxpayer dollars. He refused to accept phone calls from HUD Counsel, and prematurely terminated a teleconference call with the presiding Administrative Law Judge. Respondent has made it unmistakably clear that this proceeding is beneath his interest. By doing so, he has shown no concern for the law or the civil rights of Complainant, Jane Doe 2. He is completely unrepentant. Indeed, his refusal to participate in these proceedings suggests disrespect for, or contempt of, the Fair Housing Act and this Court, and is an appropriate additional factor to consider in assessing a civil penalty. Respondent's dismissive attitude overshadows any other factors that might have otherwise suggested a less-than-maximum penalty.

    Upon consideration of all six factors, the Court finds that Respondent's conduct was especially egregious and must be met with a harsh penalty to deter similar behavior by himself or others in the future. Additionally, Respondent is directly culpable, and has not shown any measure of concern or remorse for the consequences of his actions. Accordingly, a maximum civil penalty of $16,000 is necessary.

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