Saturday, January 16, 2016

HOA That Denied Family's Accommodation Request To Keep RV Which Was Allegedly Used As Medical Transport For Daughter With Multiple Disabilities Gets Tagged With Fair Housing Discrimination Lawsuit

In Keizer, Oregon, KATU-TV Channel 2 reports:
  • A Keizer family has filed a federal lawsuit against their Homeowner's Association, saying its ban on RVs violated both the state and federal fair housing law.

    Gary and Renee Kuhn had been living in Keizer's McNary Estates Development for years, and are now taking care of their adult daughter Khrizma full time.

    She has both Downs Syndrome and autism, and has unpredictable intestinal problems, like diarrhea and back pain. These issues made it necessary for the Kuhns to get an RV to be able to take Khrizma to medical appointments and other time-sensitive trips.

    "That medical condition has worsened to the point that it's difficult to know when we can put her in a vehicle and take her into Portland for medical appointments or for community activities," Renee Kuhn said of her daughter.

    The Kuhns say their HOA's bylaws ban parking recreational vehicles on homeowners' properties. They tried petitioning the HOA for an exemption to their ban on RVs to no avail.

    Kevin Harker is the HOA's attorney and says the associated tried to come up with alternatives for the Kuhns.

    "We suggested there are smaller, modified vans which can be fitted with bathrooms. We also suggested that they could buy an RV and park it offsite. There are at least two or three RV storage facilities within a few miles of the community," Harker said.

    The Kuhns say those options wouldn't have worked because of Khrizma's constant need for medical care.

    "It's a medical transport. People see it - it is not a recreational vehicle. It happens to be an RV but it's her medical transport," Renee Kuhn said.

    They now claim the HOA's actions, including threatening to move the RV off their property, amount to housing discrimination.

    Their federal lawsuit doesn't ask for a specific amount of money in damages.
Editor's Note: This homeowners' association has had a previous run-in with a former resident regarding the denial of a reasonable accommodation for a disability. See Court: HOA discriminated against disabled boy:
  • The McNary Estates Homeowners Association violated the Fair Housing Act by not accommodating a developmentally disabled boy, a Marion County judge ruled [].

    The Aug. 23 letter from Circuit Court Judge Joseph Guimond states the association was in error by barring a homeowner from installing privacy screens that he said prevents the boy from wandering off into the adjacent golf course. The 11-year-old child is the son of a homeowner’s girlfriend, who regularly stays at the house along with her son.

Rental Complex Allegedly Evicts OCD-Suffering Woman For Being Too Clean; She Responds By Tagging Landlord With Disability-Based Fair Housing Lawsuit

In Sherman, Texas, Courthouse News Service reports:
  • A woman with obsessive compulsive disorder sued her apartment complex for fraud and constructive eviction, claiming it wouldn't let her clean her front porch with a hose and beach towels, something she has done her entire adult life.

    Karen Ritter says in her disability discrimination complaint that she feels "obsessively compelled" to clean a 7-by-7 square foot concrete area directly in front of her apartment's entrance, but that the cleaning pattern led to her eviction based on a "nonexistent" rule made specifically for her.
    Ritter says that before moving into the Dallas-area apartment, she disclosed to property management that she suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, "which requires her to live in a home that is cleaner than the ordinary public generally requires," and that she "specifically discussed spraying down sidewalks."

    She says she uses the cleaning ritual to avoid exacerbating her disability, and did so undisturbed for more than two years, cleaning leftover debris from landscapers' leaf blowers.
    Michael Hindman, Ritter's attorney, said his client did not need any accommodations for her OCD because her cleaning pattern did not violate any apartment rules.

    "No accommodation was necessary because Karen's need to keep the common area clean, while a need related to her disability, was not in violation of any rule or policy of the apartment complex," Hindman wrote in an email to Courthouse News. "Thus no accommodation was needed until a special rule was made just for her, which was discriminatory in and of itself."
    Ritter seeks compensatory and punitive damages for disability discrimination, retaliation in violation of the Fair Housing Act, fraud, constructive eviction and deceptive trade. She is represented by Hindman with Hindman/Bynum in Dallas.

Renovation Of Only Elevator In Residential Building Threatens To Trap Elderly, Low-Income, Terminally Ill Renter In His 7th Floor Apartment For Five Months; After Landlord Allegedly Denies A Reasonable Accommodation Request, Tenant Responds By Belting Him w/ Fair Housing Lawsuit

In New York City, the New York Daily News reports:
  • A Chinatown landlord’s construction plans could trap a terminally ill man in his apartment for five months, in addition to trapping other disabled and elderly tenants, a new lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court alleges.

    Chee Sum Ng, 64, has end-stage renal disease and must receive dialysis three-to-four times per week.

    Ng’s landlord recently told residents of 173 Henry St. that the building’s only elevator would be replaced this week — and that the lift wouldn’t run for five months.

    Ng “cannot reasonably climb the seven flights of stairs to his apartment because he suffers from end-stage renal disease,” his lawyers, from Legal Services NYC’s Manhattan program and Asian Americans for Equality, said in a statement.

    Many tenants in the building’s 43 rent-stabilized apartments find themselves in similar positions, they say.

    When residents asked the landlord, King Henry Realty, Inc., for “reasonable” accommodations so they wouldn’t get stuck, the answer was no — because management had already put down a hefty deposit for the project, the suit alleges.

    Ng learned several weeks ago just how life-or-death elevator access is. Ng had to get dialysis, but the elevator wasn’t working — so he tried braving the stairs. He fell “after only one flight” and suffered a black eye and bloody nose, among other injuries.

    “When the elevator was shut off before, I hurt myself badly going down the stairs, and it took me an hour to climb back up after my dialysis,” Ng said in a statement. “I’m afraid that if my landlord shuts down the elevator, I won’t be able to get the treatments I need to live.”

    Ng wants his landlord to hold off on elevator replacement until they can agree to accommodations, such as a ground-floor apartment.

    A judge earlier this week granted a temporary restraining order barring the landlord from shutting down the elevator.

    “This is a clear case of discrimination against an elderly and disabled tenant,” said Anita Wu, staff attorney at Manhattan Legal Services.

    “Mr. Ng will die if his landlord heartlessly removes the only elevator in the building without providing him with reasonable accommodations so that he can get his life-sustaining dialysis treatments.”

    King Henry Realty could not be reached for comment.
Source: Housing activists fight to keep elevator working for sick Manhattan man.

See also, Terminally Ill Chinatown Tenant Fights Elevator Stoppage That Would Trap Him in His Apartment:
  • Legal Services NYC’s Manhattan program and Asian Americans for Equality have filed a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act and New York State and City human rights laws in connection with a planned elevator outage that would effectively trap an elderly, low-income, terminally-ill tenant in his home for five months.
    Mr. Ng is seeking reasonable accommodations (for example, an apartment on the ground floor of the building or on any floor of a nearby building with elevator access) and for the defendants to postpone removal of the elevator until such accommodations can be agreed upon.

Under Threat Of Fair Housing Lawsuit, City Of Kenai OKs Family's Reasonable Accommodation Request To Keep 900-Pound Quarter Horse Used As Emotional Support Animal For Autistic Daughter

In Kenai, Alaska, the Peninsula Clarion reports:
  • Kenai resident Kim Garrettson will be allowed to keep Major, a horse that serves as an emotional support animal for her autistic daughter, Cristal Barton, on her Kenai property in exception to city code which prohibits livestock on lots less than 40,000 square feet.

    After her August 2015 application to keep Major was denied by the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission on Oct. 24, Garrettson appealed to the Kenai City Council for reconsideration of the rejection. The council announced [] that it had overturned the commission’s decision and granted Garrettson a permit to keep the horse.

    “I was expecting more of a fight,” Garrettson said. “But I’m very, very ecstatic that we don’t have to fight anymore.”

    When the seven planning and zoning commissioners voted 5-2 against the permit, opposing members cited the size of Garrettson’s property — 10,000 square feet, a quarter of the required area — as well as the possibility of reduced property values in the neighborhood because of smells and landscape damage that could be caused by a horse.

    The members of the Kenai City Council, who in deciding administrative appeals act as a separate body called the Board of Adjustment, gave Garrettson the permit on the basis of the federal Fair Housing Act, which requires authorities to give reasonable accommodations for any aid, including emotional support animals, that allow disabled people to experience their residence in the same way that a non-disabled person would.

    After hearing testimony from Garrettson and her lawyer, Anne Applegate of the nonprofit Disability Law Center of Alaska, the council ruled in closed sessions that “the evidence... overwhelmingly demonstrates that there does exist some nexus between Ms. Barton’s handicap and her ability to function and engage in life activities when she has access to her horse, Major.”

    Two council members, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter and Terry Bookey, did not participate in the board of adjustment deliberations — Bookey due to absence, and Porter due to a conflict of interest.

    In April 2015, Porter had made two complaints about the horse to the Kenai Animal Control Department.

    Barton said she had received a large amount of support from other Kenai residents during the appeal, for which she was grateful.

    Garrettson said if the appeal hadn’t overturned the planning and zoning decision, she would have brought a lawsuit based on the Fair Housing Act against Kenai in the Alaska Superior Court.

    Barton said that although she was relieved by the appeal’s result, she hadn’t expected it to turn out one way or another.

    “I just let it happen, and see what will happen,” Barton said. “I don’t assume because if you look forward to tomorrow, it might change differently. You just have to wait until it happens.”

Recent HUD Fair Housing Discrimination Action - Sexual Harassment

In Washington, D.C., the Department of Housing & Urban Development recently announced the commencement of the following administrative action against a landlord's managing agent and employees for alleged sexual harassment against their tenants:
  • HUD Charges South Dakota Property Manager w/ Housing Discrimination For Sexually Harassing Female Tenant (charging the landlord's managing agent with violating the Fair Housing Act by sexually harassing a woman who was renting a single family home managed by him. Specifically, HUD’s charge alleges that managing agent subjected the woman, who occupied the house with her two children and her boyfriend, to repeated inappropriate sexual comments and physical contact. Read HUD’s administrative complaint).

    HUD’s charge alleges that managing agent, who had been hired to make repairs to the house and was managing it for its owner, allegedly made numerous sexually explicit statements to the woman, including requesting favors. managing agent also allegedly made inappropriate physical contact with the woman and on at least one occasion used his key to enter the rental home while the woman was inside, without the woman’s permission. The woman complained to the owner about managing agent’s behavior, sought a court order and filed a police report, but the harassment continued, ultimately forcing the woman to move out.
For guidance on how to deal with predatory landlords seeking sexual favors, see:
For what may still be the the largest monetary settlement ever agreed to in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department under the Fair Housing Act, see California Landlord Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for $2.13 Million.

Friday, January 15, 2016

NYC Landlords With Tenants Who Illegally 'Short-Stay'-Sublet Their Apartments On Airbnb (& Similar Services) May Find City Inspectors Reclassifying Their Buildings As Hotels, With All The Attendant Legal Requirements (& Consequences For Failing To Comply!)

In New York City, The Real Deal (NYC) reports:
  • Landlords beware. Not only can a tenant’s illegal Airbnb sublet draw fines from the city, it can lead to your rental building being re-classed as a hotel, with all the attendant requirements.

    That’s what happened at 357 West 54th Street in Midtown, according to a new lawsuit filed by landlords Ben and Herman Schulman against one of their tenants, Natalya Bogatyuk. In May, a Department of Buildings inspector found that tenants at the five-story, 21-unit building, including Bogatyuk, were illegally renting their apartments through Airbnb and similar services. A court issued a series of fines to the landlords, totaling $45,000, according to the complaint.

    But the inspector also concluded that the units were being occupied on a “transient” basis, thus converting the building from a Class A permanent residential property to a Class B property, essentially a hotel. That status brings with it additional requirements for landlords, such as maintaining a more comprehensive fire alarm system and providing a second means of egress. Finding these requirements unmet, the court imposed an additional $16,250 in fines, according to the suit.

    The Schulman’s are seeking damages of $250,000, plus another $50,000 to cover court costs. Several other tenants were renting their units as well, according to the suit. The landlords filed suit against another tenant, Madalina Iacob, last month, seeking the same amount of money.

    The Department of Buildings didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

    Airbnb is fighting a package of new City Council bills seeking to regulate its service, including one that would significantly raise the fine for illegal rentals. The firm is also reportedly in talks with three major national landlords – Equity Residential, AvalonBay Communities and Camden Property Trust – over a possible revenue sharing arrangement for tenants’ rentals.
Source: DOB reclassifies rental building as hotel because of Airbnb sublet: lawsuit (Landlords faced additional fines related to new status).

After Being Screwed By Landlord w/ Overcharges For Years, NYC Tenant Scores Court Victory Awarding Him $876K In Damages & Allowing Him To Reside In $2.5 Million Rent-Regulated Apartment For Life At Initial Rent Of $800/Month

In New York City, the New York Post reports:
  • An Upper West Side man just landed the sweetest apartment rental in the city—a $2.5 million pad with Central Park views for under $800-a-month!

    That’s because an appeals court found that Lane Altschuler’s landlord illegally over-charged him by nearly $3,000-a-month while receiving city tax credits for maintaining rent-stabilized units.

    And, as if that deal wasn’t tasty enough, Altschuler gets an $876,619.10 refund.

    The amount is equal to three times what the 63-year-old construction supervisor overpaid on his rent. Treble damages are awarded as punishment to landlords who don’t file annual rent-stabilization rates with the city.

    Altschuler moved into his three-bed, two-bath at 478 Central Park West in 2000. His rent quickly rose from $3,500 to $3,750 while the developer was converting the building to luxury condos.

    Both the lower court in 2013 and the recent appeals decision found that Altschuler’s unit was supposed to stay under market rate because landlord Mann Realty had received over $310,000 in J-51 tax benefits.

    Mann Realty’s lawyer Magda Cruz blasted [last week]’s ruling. “The extreme penalties that the appellate court has now upheld, without any trial, are unprecedented,” Cruz said.

    “The owner in this case is like thousands of other owners throughout New York City who had rented their vacated apartments in reliance upon the interpretation of the luxury deregulation law prior to Roberts,” Cruz said.

    She was referring to the October 2009 state Court of Appeals ruling that said building owners who receive tax breaks for rehabs cannot remove apartments in those buildings from rent regulation.

    The ruling is what prompted Altschuler to sue his landlord, claiming the owner used a “fraudulent scheme” to squeeze him for more rent, according to his attorney Christian Siebott.

    The unanimous appeals ruling means that Altschuler can stay in his 1,500-square-foot apartment forever at the rent-stabilized rate, with incremental increases as adjusted by the Rent Guidelines Board, his attorney confirmed. And his spacious pad is two floors above the same unit that recently sold for $2.5 million.
Source: Guy gets insane rent deal on swanky pad after landlord scammed him.

For the court ruling, see Altschuler v. Jobman 478/480, LLC, 2016 NY Slip Op 35 (NY App. Div., 1st Dept., January 7, 2016).

Bedbug-Infested Apartment Buildings May Be At Risk For Accidental Fires As Unresponsive Landlords May Lead Tenants To Engage In Unsafe 'Do-It-Yourself' Pest Extermination Remedies

In Detroit, Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports:
  • A Detroit man was so overwhelmed by the bedbugs in his Midtown apartment that he sprayed himself with alcohol and then tried to light one of them on fire, badly burning himself in the ensuing flames.

    By the time the accidental fire was extinguished, about four units had been destroyed by flames, and two dozen more received water damage.

    The fire started at around 4:30 a.m. Sunday at the St. Antoine Gardens apartment complex on Chrysler Drive, just east of Wayne State's campus. That's when the man thought bedbugs had returned to his apartment and sprayed alcohol on his couch and body in an attempt to destroy them, said Dan Austin, a mayor’s office spokesman.
    Bedbugs are endemic to St. Antoine Apartments, residents said []. Fifth-floor resident Rolando Millender said he knows of seven people on his floor alone who have filed complaints about bedbugs before. A management official on-site declined to comment, and other officials with the company could not be reached.

    The man who started the fire had been complaining about bedbugs for at least four months, [building resident Phyllis] Waller said. Though she noted that a crew had been coming every two weeks to tackle bedbugs, [building resident Johanahn] Larsosa noted: “Obviously they didn’t do enough.”
    Many of the residents are receiving Section 8 assistance, though it’s not clear if all of them do. The complex has about 120 units.

    The man, who has not been identified, is not the first to spark a major fire in Detroit while fighting bedbugs. Sherry Young said she had been battling bedbugs for close to a year on the city’s west side when she put rubbing alcohol all over herself and the floor, even as her oven and stovetop were on as well.

    The fire caused the 48-unit complex roof to cave in, and most of the building was destroyed either by fire or water damage. Five people were taken to a hospital, including Young, who had minor injuries..

Dozens Of Elderly Tenants On Fixed Incomes Fear Boot As Landlord Begins Renovations-Related Evictions

In Victoria, British Columbia, the Times Colonist reports:
  • Some Victoria councillors want the mayor to meet with the owners of six James Bay apartment buildings in the wake of residents’ fears that planned renovations to the buildings could see hundreds of tenants evicted.

    Councillors Ben Isitt, Jeremy Loveday and Pam Madoff hope to get assurances from the owners — Starlight Investments Ltd. and its management company Larlyn Property Management — that planned renovations won’t displace residents, many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes living in hard-to-find affordable units.
    About 60 seniors attended a workshop [last] week at the James Bay New Horizons Activity Centre. They were worried that they could fall victim to a tactic where a landlord evicts a tenant to undertake renovations, then re-rents the unit at a higher rate.

    Larlyn senior property manager Gregory Parr was at the meeting, but refused to comment about residents’ concerns, saying he had not been authorized to do so. In emails and in talking to tenants privately after the meeting, Parr said that “despite the many rumours,” there is no plan by the building owner to evict anyone for renovations.

    In December, tenants received two-month eviction notices saying they had to move out because of renovations.

    Both Isitt and [Mayor Lisa] Helps said the city has few, if any, tools it can use to combat “renovictions.”

    “We’re right on top of it because it’s a serious concern,” Helps said, “but don’t have any definitive answers about what policy tools the city could or couldn’t use at this point. We’re definitely looking at it.”

    Isitt said the city cannot deny building permits in an effort to stop renovictions. “We seem to have no discretion in terms of the issuance of building permits,” he said.

    “Our staff are legally required to evaluate applications for building permits based on technical compliance with the relevant building codes. It’s improper and beyond our authority to apply other considerations including the business practices of the applicant.”

    Helps called the prospect of hundreds of tenants, many seniors, being displaced from what are now affordable units “very, very, very concerning.”

    Isitt said his understanding is only four or five eviction notices have been issued at this point in one building. “One questions is though, is whether the extent of those renovations — which I think is installing new flooring and some work to the kitchens and bathrooms and potentially the balconies — actually requires displacement or whether there are alternate strategies,” Isitt said.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Add One More To Parade Of Thieving Attorneys Admitting To Ripping Off Unwitting Clients Who Hired Them For Representation In Real Estate Matters; Two Clients Fleeced Of Over $1 Million

In Nassau County, New York, Newsday reports:
  • A disgraced former attorney admitted [] to stealing more than a million dollars from two former clients, one severely disabled and the other elderly,(1) in schemes Nassau prosecutors said included having an impostor pose as one of the victims.

    Janice Jessup, 68, of Baldwin and Charlotte, North Carolina, pleaded guilty in Nassau County Court to first-degree and second-degree grand larceny charges.

    Jessup spent the “ill-gotten gains” on herself and her family, including buying a vintage Corvette and supporting her then-husband’s limo company, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement.

    As part of a plea bargain, Jessup admitted that in 2010 she’d stolen more than $1.1 million from a client -- a woman who’d owned land the government seized in an eminent domain case and used for a New Cassel community center.

    Authorities said Jessup also pleaded guilty to taking about $85,000 from a woman who was 85 when she hired Jessup in 2008 to help get a reverse mortgage on her Roosevelt home.

    The ex-lawyer’s April 2015 arrest followed a 2010 appellate court decision disbarring her after she’d faced more than a dozen professional misconduct allegations.

    Acting State Supreme Court Justice Jerald Carter told Jessup he’d sentence her March 16 to 3 to 9 years in prison and she’d have to repay what she stole.

    Defense attorney Ira Weissman told Newsday that Jessup had “great remorse,” adding: “I think to the day she dies, she’s going to try to repay what she’s taken.”

    Prosecutors said Jessup never gave the client from the eminent domain case the money the government paid out after convincing court officials the physically and mentally challenged woman wanted Jessup to collect it for her.

    They had alleged Jessup had someone impersonate the client to fool a court official during home visits aimed at investigating the woman’s health and whether she had consented to the money’s release to Jessup.

    In the other case, prosecutors said Jessup got a power of attorney document “purportedly bearing the signature” of the reverse mortgage client, and in 2012 stole more than $47,000 from a bank credit line and other money from the victim, who was in a nursing home.

    Jessup remains free on $50,000 bond, but has to wear a GPS device. Carter first set her bond at $150,000, but lowered it later in April after Jessup’s attorney at the time said she hadn’t gotten her diabetes medication until the sixth day she’d been in Nassau’s jail.
Source: Janice Jessup, ex-attorney, admits to stealing more than a million dollars from two former clients.

For the Nassau County DA press release, see Disbarred Attorney Pleads Guilty to Stealing More than $1.1 Million from Elderly & Disabled Clients (Janice Jessup faces up to three to nine years in prison).
(1) Clients found to have been victimized by a theft by a New York attorney may be able to seek some reimbursement for being screwed over by turning to the The Lawyers’ Fund For Client Protection Of the State of New York, which manages and distribute money collected from annual dues paid by members of the state bar to members of the public who have sustained a financial loss caused by the dishonest conduct of a member of the bar acting as an attorney or a fiduciary.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.

Cops Pinch Attorney For Allegedly Failing To Refund $100K Buyer's Deposit Held In Escrow On Real Estate Deal That Ultimately Failed To Close

In Hilton Head, South Carolina, The Island Packet reports:
  • A Beaufort County lawyer is accused of fraud for taking $100,000 from a client's escrow account and using it to buy a car and pay alimony and other personal and business expenses, according to court and law enforcement records.

    Stephen Edward Carter, 61, of Port Royal, who operated the Carter Law Firm on Hilton Head Island, was charged Wednesday with breach of trust fraudulent intent.

    Carter was in charge of an escrow account in a deal to purchase half ownership in the Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head Island.

    Hilton Head resident Jason Bullock had given Carter $250,000 in earnest money in February 2014 on an offer to buy 50 percent of the marina from Carter's client Douglas W. James for about $4.6 million. James is a member of Cross Island Associates LLC, which owns the marina.

    Carter disbursed $150,000 as authorized, but was supposed to keep $100,000 in the account until the deal closed. The deal didn't close, and in October 2014, Bullock sued James and Cross Island Associates to get the earnest money back. The suit said the deal was ready to close, but James could not be found to complete the transaction.

    Carter filed a counterclaim, saying the closing's failure was Bullock's fault.

    On Dec. 2, 2014, Beaufort County Master in Equity Marvin Dukes ordered the $100,000 that was supposed to be left in the escrow account to be put in a trust account with the county clerk of court.

    Carter did not comply. He also did not appear at a contempt of court hearing March 2, 2015.

    That same day, Dukes reported Carter to the S.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
    In September, Bullock reported Carter to the Sheriff's Office.

    Carter was disbarred in November by the state Supreme Court and ordered to pay the money, with interest and legal costs by the end of 2015. But that didn't happen.

    The court's disbarment opinion said Carter admitted to using the money to purchase a vehicle, pay alimony arrears, and to pay for office and personal expenses.

    After being charged with breach of trust [], he was released from the county jail [] on a $50,000 personal-recognizance bond.
For the story, see Beaufort County lawyer allegedly takes $100,000 from client's account.
(1)The Lawyers Fund for Client Protection, established by the South Carolina Supreme Court and administered by the South Carolina Bar, reimburses clients for money or property mishandled by Bar members.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.

Elder Law Attorney Gets 45 Months in Federal Prison For Fleecing Dead Client's Estate Of Over $1.8 Million; Client Security Fund OKs Ripoff Reimbursement - Could Make Victims "85-90% Whole"

In New Haven, Connecticut, the Connecticut Post reports:
  • For years, Peter M. Clark used Miriam Strong’s $4 million estate as his personal checking account.

    When he needed money to repay other client accounts, he just reached into Strong’s while serving as its co-executor.

    “All you needed to do was look at the checks,” said Clifford D. Hoyle, the retired probate judge appointed to untangle the estate of Strong, who spent 35 years as a chemist at Anaconda American Brass. Hoyle said some of the checks Clark drew on the Strong estate “practically matched those” paid into his other client accounts.

    And that’s what Clark, a Woodbury elder lawyer did, taking from one account to pay back what was stolen from another, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Karwan said.

    The money Strong willed to Oxford to build a new library, buy open space and fund scholarship for high school students; to the Ansonia Congregational Church for a new boiler; and to other charities, cemeteries and friends, was gone.

    “The court needs to send a message to fiduciaries, attorneys, people in trust,” that these actions have to stop, Karwan told Senior U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in seeking a lengthy sentence for Clark. “We need to restore confidence to the general public that when an attorney breaks the law, he or she suffers severe consequences.”

    Arterton sentenced Clark to three years and nine months in federal prison, beginning Feb. 24.

    In light of the position as an attorney and fiduciary, one should pray for their clients and not (prey) on them,” Arterton said to 58-year-old Clark. “You caused injury to real people and not institutions.”

    Once released from federal prison, Clark is to spend three years being supervised by the U.S. Probation Department. During that time, Arterton ordered him pay restitution at the rate of $500 per month. The amount of restitution — expected to exceed $1.8 million — is to be determined during an April 7 hearing.

    Afterward, Clark said he was “a little disappointed” with Arterton’s sentence, but “understood her position.” In court, he apologized to his family, friends, Oxford, the court and the bar.

    “There was no justifiable excuse,” Clark said. “My actions led me to become something I abhor — a failed, disgraced attorney.”

    Since Clark’s guilty plea to mail fraud in October, Hoyle was able to convince the state bar’s Connecticut Client Security Fund to refund the victims more than $1.8 million.(1) He said that money is expected in about eight weeks. With it, Hoyle said, he hopes to make each of the 22 victims “85 to 90 percent whole.”

    Clark will have to repay the fund, plus the $60,000 he took from Strong in legal fees, as well as Hoyle’s expenses.

    But even Arterton conceded that, because of the “huge amount stolen,” there is a “dim likelihood” that the stolen money would be repaid.
Source: Lawyer sentenced to prison for theft from dead woman’s estate.

For the U.S. Attorney (New Haven, Connecticut) press release, see Attorney Who Stole $1.8 Million from Oxford Woman's Estate Sentenced to 45 Months in Federal Prison.
(1) The Client Security Fund is a fund established by the rules of the Connecticut Superior Court to provide reimbursement to individuals who have lost money or property as a result of the dishonest conduct of an attorney practicing law in the State of Connecticut, in the course of the attorney-client relationship. The fund provides a remedy for clients who are unable to obtain reimbursement for their loss from any other source.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Real Estate Agent Indicted In Alleged Scheme To Illegally Obtain, Then Record, Court Judgments To Create Appearance That Existing Home Mortgages Have Been Declared Void, Then Unload Purportedly Free & Clear Properties Onto Unwitting Homebuyers

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (San Francisco, California):
  • An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in San Francisco was unsealed [], charging Robert Jacobsen with wire fraud and with engaging in financial transactions involving criminally derived proceeds, announced Acting United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch, [and others].

    According to the indictment, Jacobsen, 67, formerly of Lafayette, Calif., is alleged to have devised a scheme to defraud homeowners and mortgage holders. To accomplish this scheme, Jacobsen created a company called “American Brokers’ Conduit Corporation.” This company was not related to a mortgage originator known as “American Brokers’ Conduit,” which had originated mortgages in the Bay Area and elsewhere.

    Jacobsen, through intermediaries, gained control of homes with mortgage liens that secured loans originated by the real “American Brokers’ Conduit,” and then, again through intermediaries, sued the phony “American Brokers’ Conduit Corporation” in court, claiming that the legitimate mortgage liens were invalid.

    As he controlled both the plaintiff and the defendant in these lawsuits, he instructed the attorneys for both sides to enter into stipulated judgments, signed by the courts, resolving the lawsuits by purporting to declare the mortgage liens invalid. In so doing, he omitted to tell the courts that neither he nor any other person involved in the lawsuits was a legitimate representative of either the real “American Brokers’ Conduit” or the then-current owners of the liens.

    Jacobsen filed those agreements with the relevant county recorder’s offices, to give the appearance to anyone conducting a title search that the liens had been declared invalid by a court, and then sold the homes to unsuspecting buyers without paying off the original loans on the homes. Jacobsen kept the vast majority of the proceeds of these sales to himself, laundering the money through multiple bank accounts in the United States and in Belize, and buying property and a yacht with the money.

    Jacobsen successfully completed his scheme by selling two homes, one in Danville, Calif., and the other in San Francisco, for a total of over $1.6 million. He attempted the scheme on another home, in Monterey, Calif., which was last sold approximately 15 years ago for $2.5 million.

Real Estate Operator Cops Plea To 'Snatch & Flip' Conspiracy Using Forged Documents To Hijack Home Titles, Then Sell Them To Unwitting Buyers

From the Office of the U.S. Attorney (San Diego, California):
  • Mazen Alzoubi, a real estate investor, admitted [] that he orchestrated a scheme to steal title to Southern California homes and then sell the properties to unsuspecting buyers before the true owners could put a stop to the sale.

    Alzoubi admitted that from May 2012 through August 2014, he and several co-conspirators fraudulently sold or attempted to sell at least 15 homes worth more than $3.6 million. On at least ten occasions, Alzoubi admitted, he was successful—earning illicit proceeds of nearly $2.2 million, which he then laundered and diverted to overseas bank accounts to ensure that the fraudulently-obtained proceeds could never be recovered.

    Alzoubi and his co-conspirators, including Daniel Deaibes and Mohamed Daoud, would generate forged trust deeds, making it appear that the true owner had sold the home to a business Alzoubi controlled, when, in reality, the true owners were entirely unaware of Alzoubi’s actions. They would then record the fraudulent grant deeds at county recorder’s offices, so the deeds appeared legitimate. Once the fraudulent documents were recorded in the chain of title, Alzoubi would pose as the owner and immediately try to sell the properties. Alzoubi used a web of aliases (including “John Moran,” “Enrique Lopez,” “Dan Cox,” and “Zubu Wawa”) and a host of sham businesses (with names like “Land Investments 01”) to pose as the owner of properties he listed for sale. Alzoubi and his co-conspirators set up bank accounts for the sham companies, so that the proceeds could be diverted directly to them. In this way, Alzoubi collected all the sale proceeds, and the true owners were left with nothing.

    In some cases, the real owners discovered the fraud, and made efforts to re-gain control of their property. In one instance, true owner Fannie Mae discovered that a fraudulent grant deed had been recorded relating to property it owned in Rowland Heights, California. Shortly after discovering the fraudulent deed, Fannie Mae filed a lawsuit to recover control over the property and recorded a lis pendens, notifying prospective buyers that Fannie Mae was challenging the fraudulent deed. Undeterred, Alzoubi and his co‑schemers created a fake “Withdrawal of Lis Pendens” in an effort to proceed with their fraudulent sale. When Fannie Mae won a judgment in its favor and obtained a court finding that the deed was fraudulent, Alzoubi and his co-schemers created a fake “Satisfaction of Judgment” and recorded that fraudulent document as well.

    Alzoubi and his co-conspirators assumed the identities of others in order to keep the scheme going, and used the forged signatures and notary stamps of notaries to make fake documents look legitimate, and of lawyers to prepare and file fraudulent court documents. As a result, Alzoubi was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison in addition to his sentence for the fraud and money laundering.

Maryland Homebuilder Agrees To Fork Over Nearly $600K, Resolving Allegations That It Pocketed Homebuyer Deposits w/out Proper Escrow/Surety Bond, Failed To Complete Construction, & Stiffed Subs In The Process, Leaving Customers To Make Double Payments To Avoid Mechanics' Liens

In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the Capital Gazette reports:
  • Anne Arundel County’s Fusion Modular Green Construction LLC has been ordered to pay nearly $600,000 for violating consumer protection laws.

    Attorney General Brian E. Frosh found the firm and its principals - William E. Sims III and Joshua S. Sims - entered into contracts with four families to construct new homes in Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, but then failed to complete the project after collecting deposits and payments.

    The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division determined the firm and its principals failed to place consumers’ deposits and payments in an escrow account or establish a surety bond or letter of credit to protect consumers. The company also failed to pay subcontractors for work performed, leaving buyers to pay the bills to avoid potential liens being placed against their homes, officials said.

    The division’s final order also bars the home builder and its principals from acting as a home builder in Maryland unless they are properly registered under the state’s Home Builder Registration Act. The buyers whose homes were not completed may seek to recover actual losses of up to $50,000 through the Home Builder Guaranty Fund.

    Frosh urged new home buyers to verify that their builder is registered and confirm that they have a surety bond or letter of credit by contacting the Home Builder Registration Unit at 410-576-6573 or 877-259-4525, or by visiting
Source: Anne Arundel County home builder must pay $600K in damages.
(1) The State of Maryland has established a Home Builder Guaranty Fund that is overseen by the Consumer Protection Division of the state Attorney General's Office. This fund allows consumers to seek compensation for losses resulting from an act or omission by a registered builder who constructs a new home for a consumer.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

After Two Hung Juries, Prosecutor Declines Further Criminal Proceedings Against Woman Who Allegedly Abused POA To Snatch 57-Acre Farm, Bank Funds From Her Grandmother, Leaving Her To Die As A Ward Of The State, Broke & In Nursing Home

In Boyle County, Kentucky, The Advocate-Messenger reports:
  • After two hung juries, a special prosecutor will not seek to try Anne C. Rush a third time on a charge she exploited her elderly grandmother for her own financial gain.

    Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler issued an order [] dismissing the 2013 felony indictment against Rush for exploitation of an adult more than $300. Peckler's order followed a motion by prosecutor Barbara Whaley of the Attorney General's office to have the case dismissed.

    Whaley's motion stated the commonwealth did not wish to pursue a third trial against Rush because she "was tried two times with both trials ending in a mistrial due to the jury being unable to reach a verdict," Peckler wrote.
    The first trial in February 2014 ended in a hung jury, with eight jurors voting for acquittal and four for conviction. In the second trial in October of this year, nine jurors thought Rush was innocent while three thought she was guilty. A unanimous verdict is required in criminal cases.

    Whaley contended that Rush took advantage of her grandmother Geraldine Waits' deteriorating mental condition to enrich herself to the tune of about $200,000. She cashed out Wait's CDs and deeded her 57-acre farm on Scrubgrass Road to herself, the prosecution argued.

    “It’s not a robbery, it’s not an assault, it’s not a sexual offense, but it’s no less a crime,” Whaley told jurors in October. “It’s a crime what she did to an 86-year-old woman, her own grandmother.”

    Waits died last year as a ward of the state, unable to pay her nursing home bills.

    [Defense attorney Travis] Lock argued that Waits gave power of attorney to Rush because she was the one family member who cared for her in her declining years. That power of attorney gave Rush the right to make gifts of Waits' money and property, including to herself, he said.

    “That power of attorney gave Anne Rush the legal authority to do what she did, even if you don’t like what she did," Lock told jurors during his closing arguments in October.

Pennsylvania Man Gets 4 To 10 Years For Fleecing 95-Year Old Great-Uncle Out Of $350K+ By Abusing POA, Leaving Him Broke w/ Once-Free & Clear Home Lost To Foreclosure; Victim Now Lives In Nursing Home, Being Hounded By Daily Bill Collector Calls, Says "I Am In Hell"

In Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, LehighValleyLive reports:
  • A Pen Argyl man is headed to state prison for stealing his elderly great-uncle's life savings, leaving the victim in a self-described hell.

    Scott Lee Bartholomew's actions were an act of financial elder abuse, Judge Robert Steinberg said [], and should serve as a cautionary tale "of who you allow to handle your finances."

    The judge sentenced the 54-year-old Bartholomew, of the 100 block of Acker Street, to four to 10 years in state prison -- an aggravated range sentence.

    Steinberg also ordered Bartholomew to pay back the $351,677 he stole from his great-uncle, as well as a $10,000 fine.

    Bartholomew was convicted of theft and related crimes by a Lehigh County jury following a trial back in October.

    The victim, 95-year-old Wilbur B. Stiles, is a World War II Air Force veteran who worked as a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of the Interior.

    In a victim impact statement, Stiles spoke of going from his home, filled with personal possessions and collections of art and music, to living in the Gino Merli Veterans' Center in the Scranton area.

    In the statement read by the judge, Stiles said he's ashamed and frustrated by his circumstances now.

    Stiles said he ruminates everyday on his home lost to foreclosure; his besmirched reputation with banks and businesses; and daily phone calls from creditors, all because of Bartholomew taking money and not paying bills.

    "I am in hell," Stiles said in the statement.

    Stiles said he first learned of the problem when he opened a bill in March 2012, and discovered a $23,000 invoice from the Gino Merli Veterans' Center. Stiles' mail was being sent to a P.O. box.

    Chief Deputy District Attorney Charles F. Gallagher told jurors after Bartholomew was appointed as power of attorney in 2003, Stiles' savings dwindled, his home went into foreclosure and Stiles was placed in a nursing facility.

    From January 2006 to June 2012, Bartholomew took more than $351,000. He was removed as power of attorney in February 2012.

    Bartholomew was convicted of theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, receiving stolen property and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities.
For the story, see Nephew heads to state prison for stealing elderly uncle's life savings.

See also, Pen Argyl man sentenced for stealing $350,000 from elderly uncle:
  • After a lifetime of hard work and smart investing, Wilbur Stiles was well prepared for retirement. The 95-year-old Allentown man's home was paid off and he was determined, family members said, to remain there in his final years, surrounded by his beloved books, music and World War II memorabilia.

    When his health began to fail in 2003, Stiles, who has no children, appointed his great-nephew, Scott L. Bartholomew, power of attorney.

    Over the next 10 years, a Lehigh County jury found, Bartholomew, 54, of Pen Argyl, drained Stiles' bank accounts and took out multiple mortgages on Stiles' home, leaving his great-uncle deeply in debt.

    [Last week], Judge Robert L. Steinberg sentenced Bartholomew to four to 10 years in a state prison, and ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine and $351,677 in restitution. [...] The judge praised the Lehigh County Elder Abuse Task Force for pursuing the case, saying he believed elder abuse is an underreported crime. "I think everyone fears that we're going to spend the last days of our lives penniless and living in a nursing home. That is what happened to Mr. Stiles," Steinberg said.

POA-Holding Daughter Gets Bagged For Allegedly Ripping Off Dead Mom Of Nearly $680K, Stiffing Nursing Home ($134K) On Tab For Care/Living Expenses, Funeral Home ($11K+) For Services

In Newberry Township, Pennsylvania, the York Daily Record reports:
  • A Newberry Township woman has been charged with stealing about $680,000 from her late mother and failing to pay her debts, according to court records.

    Cynthia L. Fisher, 59, [...], faces charges of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception and forgery. She is out on bail, but a phone number could not be found for her.

    Fisher had been named as power of attorney for her mother, Gloria Drawbaugh, in March 2014. Drawbaugh died on June 30, 2014.

    Fisher was the executor of her mother's estate until a York County judge ordered her to surrender the position on June 24, 2015, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

    A few weeks later, police were alerted to the alleged theft by an estate attorney who had been retained to check into thefts from Drawbaugh's estate, the affidavit states.

    A short time after her mother's death, Fisher opened an estate bank account on her mother's behalf. The attorney told police that none of the funds in the account — about $158,500 — were used to pay any of Drawbaugh's debts or administration expenses, the affidavit states.

    A nursing home where Drawbaugh stayed for nearly a year is owed about $134,125, and a funeral home is owed about $11,395 for her funeral services, the affidavit states.
For the story, see Daughter stole from dead mother, police say (Cynthia Fisher allegedly stole money from her late mother and failed to pay her debts).

Monday, January 11, 2016

Condo Treasurer Bagged On Theft Charges For Allegedly Fleecing $57K+ From HOA's Till; Suspect's Stroke Lead Other Homeowners To Pick Up Her Duties & Subsequently Discover Suspicious Payments: Cops

In Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:
  • A medical condition launched the discovery that led to accusations that a woman stole nearly $58,000 while treasurer of a Palm Beach Gardens homeowners association.

    Martha Susan Coppock-Hughes, 58, of Palm Beach Gardens, was arrested [] and is facing fraud and grand theft charges.

    After the Royal Point Manor East Condo Association held its annual meeting in January 2015, the association collected dues from its 18 members, as usual, for several months.

    But in May, Coppock-Hughes suffered a stroke, causing other members of the HOA to pick up her duties. When they did, they discovered she was missing a check to pay her fees, according to a Palm Beach Gardens police arrest report.

    Coppock-Hughes explained to former HOA president Brigitte Mathews that she hadn't paid maintenance fees for ten years because of "all the work I was doing," the report quoted her as saying.

    When other condo association members checked up on the work, they found the dry vents she claimed to have cleaned were dirty, trees she said were cut were not, among other discrepancies, according to the report.

    With Coppock-Hughes in the hospital, the HOA president, Eric Poola and Vice President Denise Hindle added themselves to the HOA's bank account to collect maintenance fees. That's when they discovered checks going to a dance clothing store owned by Coppock-Hughes, the members told detectives.

    When confronted by association members at her store in May, the report said, Coppock-Hughes promised to drop off her treasury and association records. Instead, she sent an email the following month resigning her post citing health reasons.

    Detectives went through the HOA's records and said they found 62 suspicious checks totaling 57,402.22 that were either cashed out to Coppock-Hughes or going to her store.

Lawsuit: Harris County Housing Authority Wrongfully Terminated Disabled Section 8 Tenant's Housing Voucher, Violating Due Process Rights, Fair Housing Act While Doing So

In Houston, Texas, The Southeast Texas Record reports:
  • A Harris County woman is suing the Harris County Housing Authority and numerous employees, alleging unlawfully denying the re-certification of her Section 8 housing allowance.

    Jane Doe filed a lawsuit Sept. 30 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas against the Harris County Housing Authority, Tom McCasland, Horace Alliscon, Debra McCray and Beverly Burroughs, alleging violation the Fair Housing Act

    The plaintiff alleges the defendants unlawfully denied the re-certification of her Section 8, three-bedroom housing voucher.

    According to the complaint, In 2013, the plaintiff, who suffers from anxiety and panic disorders was denied her housing allowance in part due to the fact she resided with her mother.(1) The plaintiff contends housing authority employees thwarted, and mishandled her appeal rights.

    As a consequence, the lawsuit states, the plaintiff became ill and was hospitalized for anxiety-related problems she attributes to the loss of her voucher and the appeal process.

    The plaintiff seeks unspecified damages, plus attorney fees and costs of litigation. She is represented by attorney David Sodegh of The Law Offices of David Sodegh in Humble.
Source: Disabled woman says Harris County Housing Authority wrongfully denied allowance.

For the lawsuit, see Doe v. Harris County Housing Authority et al.
(1) From the lawsuit:
  • 20. Ms. Doe is disabled. She suffers from mental disabilities, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia, which substantially limit her major life activities.

    21. Ms. Doe has had a three bedroom voucher with the HCHA since 2008. She has been renting from her mother since 2010 when she was allowed to do so by HCHA as a reasonable accommodation for Ms. Doe’s disabilities.

    22. At her 2013 recertification, Ms. Doe was informed that she would not be able to keep her three bedroom voucher because of rule changes at HCHA. Ms. Doe protested the change and the way she was treated during the recertification and filed complaints with HCHA and HUD. It was only then that an issue was made of the fact she was renting from her mother, and she was informed that she would have to move. This issue was brought up by HCHA only in retaliation for Ms. Doe’s fair housing complaints to HUD. Section 818 of the Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to retaliate against any person because he or she has filed a housing discrimination complaint.

Baltimore City Housing Authority Agrees To Pay Up To $8 Million To Settle Sexual Harassment Fair Housing Class Action Suit Alleging Maintenance Men Extorted 'Favors' For Repairs From Poor Female Tenants, w/ Complaints To Management Yielding No Action; Criminal Probe Remains Ongoing

In Baltimore, Maryland, The Baltimore Sun reports:
  • The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has reached a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit that alleges maintenance men demanded sex acts from at least 19 women as a condition of making repairs to their homes, the parties confirmed [last week].

    Paul T. Graziano, Baltimore housing chief, and Cary J. Hansel, a lawyer representing the women, said they reached an agreement for an undisclosed amount of money, pending approval by the court and the U.S. Department of Housing.

    Settlement talks were held Dec. 14 and Dec. 22 before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey, but online court records contain few details on the meetings.

    Hansel and Graziano, through a spokeswoman, acknowledged the agreement but declined further comment.

    The tenants — who were seeking more than $10 million each — contend that several maintenance men at Gilmor Homes, Westport and Govans Manor sexually abused and harassed them in recent years. They claim their constitutional and fundamental rights were violated. Some say they lived for extended periods with no heat, gas leaks, and roach infestations.

    The suit was filed in September and amended in mid-November to add more plaintiffs and to seek class-action status.

    A criminal investigation into the allegations by the Baltimore state's attorney's office is ongoing, spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie said Monday.

    Hansel said class-action suits generally provide notice to all individuals potentially affected, telling them how to apply to join the litigation. He declined to give details on how or when people could sign on to this case.

    Typically, the plaintiffs and defendants in a class-action case decide who is affected, and then people in that class can apply to be included. Applying usually involves filling out paperwork or participating in interviews. Those approved share in the settlement.

    Perry Hopkins, an organizer with the advocacy group Maryland Communities United, said "it's well past time" for the housing authority to take responsibility for the living conditions in Baltimore's public housing complexes. Hopkins and others from the advocacy group have helped tenants petition the agency to remedy poor conditions inside their homes.

    They also prompted the women in the suit to come forward. "Nothing can replace the degradation, intimidation and the shame that they all experienced, but this is a step forward for them to get a fresh start," Hopkins said.

    A spokeswoman for HUD declined to comment on the agreement. The federal agency also has been investigating the allegations.

    Graziano has said he finds the allegations "extremely disturbing."

    In July, a public housing agency in North Carolina agreed to pay $2.7 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit. The U.S. Department of Justice joined private plaintiffs in suing Southeastern Community and Family Services Inc., the agency that administered the Section 8 voucher program in Scotland County, N.C. The suit alleged the housing coordinator and inspector sexually harassed female voucher program participants and applicants.

    Vanita Gupta, a top Justice Department deputy, said at the time it is "deeply offensive and illegal to sexually harass women who are seeking housing for themselves and their families."

    "This settlement sends a strong message to those who would exploit their positions of power that their egregious conduct will not be tolerated and that the Civil Rights Division will aggressively pursue those who engage in it," Gupta said in a July statement.

    In Baltimore, the plaintiffs claim that they and witnesses filed more than 10 complaints with the housing authority in recent years, outlining the demands for sexual favors, but no action was taken to address the situation.

    One 52-year-old woman who lived in Gilmor Homes said in an affidavit that "sewage periodically leaks into the drinking and bathing water in my home and the water is dark, or black in color and reeks when coming from the sink or bathtub." She said she got no help — other than to receive bleach — after reporting a maintenance worker for making a sexual advance in 2013.

    Other women say they felt they had no choice to give into the workers' demands for sex to ensure their problems would be fixed.

    "I felt nasty and I felt wronged," one woman said.
Source: Housing Authority reaches settlement agreement in sex-for-repairs scheme.

See also, Tenants to share up to $8 million in settlement of sex-for-repairs lawsuit:
  • Public housing tenants in Baltimore who alleged they were sexually harassed and abused by maintenance workers will share up to $8 million in a settlement of a class-action lawsuit that exposed poor living conditions in the subsidized complexes.
    "I hope this process increases the awareness of everybody — employees, residents, the general public — that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated, and that residents understand their rights," Graziano said.

    The settlement amount is on par with previous sexual harassment cases under the Fair Housing Act, but given the large number of potential victims, Hansel said it will be the largest such payout in history.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Higher Education Going To The Dogs: University To Cough Up $145K To Settle Fair Housing Suit Alleging Student w/ Psychological Disabilities Was Denied Request For Emotional Support Pooch In Institution-Owned, Student-Occupied Apartment Complex

In Kent, Ohio, The Washington Post reports:
  • “Emotional support dogs” will now be allowed in student housing at Kent State University, which has settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department claiming the school discriminated against students with psychological disabilities.

    Banning pets for all students, the 2014 lawsuit alleged, could violate federal law prohibiting discrimination in housing.

    Colleges across the country are grappling with this issue, as more students with mental illnesses are able to attend university, and as families are increasingly likely to ask for accommodations. But it’s complicated for school officials as they seek to help students with documented real need without making others uncomfortable.

    “It’s a real balancing act,” said Allan Blattner, who hears a lot about this issue in his role as president of the executive board of the Association of College & University Housing Officers – International, and deals with it himself as director of housing and residential education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    “What if there’s a roommate who has an allergy,” to the pet, he asked, “Who moves? If there’s damage from the animal —

    If it’s a cat, it’s one thing, but all kinds of different animals have been approved. Ferrets, miniature ponies — all kinds of things.”
    The university would pay $100,000 to two former students who were not allowed to keep a dog in their university-owned apartment, $30,000 to a fair-housing organization that advocated for the students, and $15,000 to the U.S., if the settlement is approved in district court.
For more, see There is a dog in this fight: College to allow emotional support animals after Justice Department alleges discrimination.

See also, Kent State University agrees to $145,000 settlement of federal lawsuit over assistance animals:
  • The federal lawsuit arose following a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by Jacqueline Luke, who had sought to live with a dog following a university psychologist's recommendation that the animal would help alleviate her anxiety.

    Luke, who has been diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder, moved into a two-bedroom apartment in the university-owned Allerton Apartments in fall 2008 with her husband, Brandon. She began having panic attacks in 2009 and was treated in the university's health services office.

    She requested a housing accommodation for an "emotional service animal" in December 2009. The couple learned two months later, after acquiring a dog, that the request was denied. They moved.
    The $100,000 would be paid to Luke and her husband.

Recently Improved Apartment In 3-Unit Building Fails Section 8 Inspection, Leaving Voucher-Holding Paterson Family Temporarily Homeless; Inconsistency Between Reviews By Different Housing Administrators May Be To Blame As Landlord Claims Remaining Two Units Have Already Passed Muster w/ Another Agency

In Paterson, New Jersey, reports:
  • The three-family house at 476 Ellison St. sits next to a vacant building that has plywood boards covering the front door and first-floor windows.

    Directly across the street stands a charred, burned-out structure, which is alongside another empty dwelling. Quality-of-life crimes – including drug dealing and prostitution – are commonplace in the neighborhood.

    It might not seem like most people’s dream home, but one Paterson family – a woman in her 40s with a 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter – was hoping to move into the second-floor apartment at 476 Ellison this week. The mother said the lease on their previous home expired Dec. 30.

    Their moving plans, however, were sidetracked when the state last week rejected the woman’s application to use a $1,350-per-month Section 8 housing voucher at the Ellison Street location – a decision officials said was based on their findings that the place failed to meet quality standards. In particular, state officials cited the nearby vacant buildings.

    “One is full of trash, debris, etc., the other is boarded up,” wrote New Jersey Department of Community Affairs spokesman Emike Omogbai.

    As a result, the woman and her children were putting their belongings in storage on Wednesday afternoon and getting ready to look for a hotel room. “I’ve got nowhere else to go,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be published so her comments would not jeopardize her eligibility for the housing assistance.

    The situation has outraged the owner of the building on Ellison Street.

    “If everyone wasn't allowed to move next to a house that had a fire or an abandoned property, the city of Patterson would be deserted it and there would be no economic growth,” said Nick Daurio of JCM Investors.

    Daurio said his company was “bringing life back to the city of Patterson” by renovating vacant buildings. He asserted that the state officials overseeing the housing voucher program “should be supporting the people who take initiative to rebuild the city.”

    The building has two other tenants on the first and third floors. Daurio said both of them pay their rent with Section 8 vouchers provided by the Paterson Housing Authority, which he said approved the site as meeting federal quality standards. The executive director of the Paterson housing agency did not respond to a phone message seeking confirmation of those assertions.

    Section 8 vouchers are handled by a variety of agencies and organizations around New Jersey and each of them is responsible for approving the apartments for their own clients. The woman who was looking to move into 476 Ellison happens to be part of the DCA’s program and not the one run by the city housing authority.

    “It’s a nice apartment,” the woman said, walking through the living room of the place on Ellison Avenue. Daurio said JCM had acquired what had been a vacant house about six months ago and renovated the building. It now has new windows, a paint job and low-cost carpeting.

    When asked about the vacant structures nearby, the would-be tenant said: “That’s not bothering me. That’s over there. I want to live here.”

    DCA officials said they were willing to continue providing the woman with a Section 8 voucher for the apartment where she had been living, on East 24th Street. The state said the woman was under no obligation to leave her old apartment and could not have been kicked out because of protections provided by New Jersey’s anti-eviction laws.

    But the woman said that if she tried to stay at the East 24th Street apartment beyond the end of her lease, her landlord would not return the deposit she had put down when she initially moved there. She said she could not afford to risk losing that money. “I’m not working right now,” she said.

    Daurio said that when he went to complain at the state housing office at 100 Hamilton Plaza in Paterson, a supervisor told him the agency wanted to get Section 8 clients away from Paterson to suburban areas.

    State officials said Daurio’s assertion is not true. “When the landlord went to the office, he was not told that people were being ‘steered away’ from Paterson,” Omogbai wrote. “He was told that the unit failed the inspection due to the site and neighborhood criteria listed above.”

    For JCM Investors, the issue over the Ellison Street apartment has bigger implications. The firm’s principal, Charles Florio, owns more than 100 buildings in Paterson’s most troubled neighborhoods. Many of his tenants pay their rent with Section 8 vouchers.

City Of Dubuque To Consider Whether To Add 'Source-Of-Income' Protections To Local Fair Housing Ordinance

In Dubuque, Iowa, the Telegraph-Herald reports:
  • A task force created to investigate whether source-of-income protections should be added to Dubuque's fair housing ordinance will survey landlords and renters early [this] year.

    City Council members received an update on the task force's progress during a [recent] evening work session. The group includes representatives from several groups, including landlords, tenants and several city departments.

    The group has compiled an analysis of landlord and source-of-income policies in other U.S. cities as well as local housing needs. Next, the task force will send a survey to rental property owners and managers to gauge their thoughts on the topic.

    A similar survey of tenants is still being developed, City Housing and Community Development Director Alvin Nash said. Meetings also are planned from May to July to gather public input.

    The task force hopes to deliver a final report with a set of recommendations for council action by December.

    Several landlords have argued that requiring they consider housing vouchers, government aid and child-support payments equal to wages will make it more difficult to collect damages from problem tenants. Supporters said doing so would ensure fair housing.

Recent HUD Fair Housing Discrimination Actions - Families With Children

In Washington, D.C., the Department of Housing & Urban Development recently announced the commencement of the following administrative actions against landlords for alleged discriminatory conduct against families with children:
  • HUD Charges Pennsylvania Landlord w/ Discriminating Against Families w/ Children (charging a Pennsylvania landlord with housing discrimination for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to families with children. HUD’s charge alleges that the owner, who owns and manages rental properties and formerly owned a four-unit building in Coopersburg, posted an online classified ad for one of his Coopersburg units that discouraged families with children from applying. Specifically, the ad read: “Not suitable for children due to the exterior landing and stairs.” Read HUD’s administrative complaint):

    According the HUD’s charge, a female tester posing as the mother of a four-year-old told DeRomo that she would be sharing the apartment with her daughter. After being told about the child, DeRomo allegedly told the tester that the ad stated “no kids” because the stairwell landing was not secure and he did not feel comfortable renting the unit to the family due to safety concerns for the child.

    Meanwhile, DeRomo gave a tester who said she had no children a tour of the unit and a rental application. DeRomo ultimately rented the unit to an applicant without children. DeRomo allegedly stated that he has not allowed any family to live in the two second-floor apartments of the Coopersburg building due to the landing and the stairs.

    For story update, see Coopersburg landlord settles housing discrimination charge ("Michael DeRomo, who formerly owned a four-unit building on the 700 block of Tilghman Street in Coopersburg, has agreed to pay [a settlement of] $2,330.86 to the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania, according to documents provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    The settlement, in which DeRomo admits no fault or liability, the documents say, eliminates the need for an administrative hearing. The charge against DeRomo has been dismissed, the records state
  • HUD Charges Texas Landlords w/ Discrimination For Imposing Overly Restrictive Rules On Families w/ Children (charging the former owner and manager of Pebble Beach Apartments, a 61-unit complex in Universal City, Texas, with violating the Fair Housing Act by imposing overly restrictive rules on children under 16 who lived there. HUD also charged the current management company, and the current owner of the complex with discriminating based on familial status. Read HUD’s administrative complaint):

    Specifically, HUD’s charge alleges that Pebble Beach’s rules discriminated against families by prohibiting children under the age of 16 from being in their home without an adult, using the laundry facilities without an adult present, using the pool without an adult present, or using their scooters or bikes on the street and parking lots without an adult. HUD’s charge further alleges that residents were told that parking lots were not to be used as playgrounds and that if children were left playing “in the street” with bikes, scooters, etc. they would be given a 24-hour notice to vacate.

    (Editor's Note: The Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio, a non-profit housing rights advocacy agency filed an initial complaint with HUD after it conducted its own probe, using fair housing testers to gather evidence of possible discrimination.)