Saturday, October 29, 2016

Final Tab In Fair Housing, ADA Lawsuit Nearly $200K For Upstate NY Municipality For Its Refusal To Rezone Former School Building For Use By Non-Profit To Assist Persons Recovering From Mental Health Issues

In Ogdensburg, New York, North Country Now reports:
  • Ogdensburg paid $43,276 in legal fees to defend the city against a discrimination suit brought by Step By Step Inc., according to City Manager Sarah Purdy.

    The sum includes fees paid to Sugarman Law Firm and a special payment to City Attorney Andy Silver for extra work that related to the suit.

    That’s on top of the $150,000 settlement the city was ordered to pay to Step By Step Inc. in August. However $75,000 of the settlement was covered by the city’s insurance provider.

    The controversy began when Step by Step sought to rezone the former Lincoln Elementary School, which it had recently purchased from Ogdensburg School District.

    That effort was met with backlash from the public for a variety of reasons including fear of reduced property values.

    Over the course of several public hearings residents in the neighborhood and clients of Step by Step made arguments to the city council about the proposed change.

    In the end the city denied the request with no explanation.

    The suit centered around Ogdensburg's denial of a zoning request in May 2015. Step by Step Inc. sued the city in federal court, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

Four Nursing Home/Assisted Living Residence Operators To Cough Up $495K, Agree To Make Facilities Friendlier To Hearing-Disabled To Resolve Fair Housing Suit Accusing Owners Of Refusing To Make American Sign Language Interpreter Services Available To Deaf Persons

The New York City-based Fair Housing Justice Center recently announced:
  • [T]he Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced that four operators of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have settled a lawsuit filed in federal court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in November 2015.

    The lawsuit, based on an eight-month testing investigation conducted by the FHJC, alleged that the defendants refused to make American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter services available to Deaf persons. While denying these allegations, the three nursing home operators Archcare/Catholic Managed Long Term Care, Inc., Jewish Home Lifecare, and Elant, along with assisted living provider Atria Senior Living, Inc. entered into separate agreements to settle the lawsuit.

    The settlement agreements contain some common injunctive relief including:
  • Agreement not to refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation to obtain auxiliary services including ASL interpreters when appropriate for effective communication;
  • Adoption of policies and procedures that will ensure Deaf people have access to ASL interpreters or other auxiliary services as needed to provide effective communication when appropriate;
  • Training for key facility staff on the legal rights of Deaf persons under fair housing and other civil rights laws as well as sensitivity issues and best practices for working with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing persons; and
  • Agreement to maintain and make available specific records over a period of years for review by the FHJC to document efforts made to comply with the terms of the settlements.
  • The settlements were so-ordered by the Hon. Judge Paul A. Engelmayer in August, September and early October. The injunctive relief applies to a total of 12 nursing home facilities and 16 assisted living residences operated by the defendants and located in the FHJC service area. In addition to the injunctive relief, the FHJC obtained a total monetary recovery of $495,000 including damages and attorney’s fees.
Source: Fair Housing Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination Against Deaf Elderly People Resolved (Agreements Ensure Access To Auxiliary Services Including American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters At Assisted Living & Nursing Home Facilities).

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Nixes Mobility-Impaired Co-Op Purchaser's Request For Companion Pooch; Says Need For Animal Provides No Direct Assistance For Particular Disability As Described By Her Physician In Doctor's Note

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Legal Intelligencer reports:
  • The Commonwealth Court held in Kennedy House v. Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, No. 1263 C.D. (2016), that a residential cooperative building was not required to provide an accommodation in the form of a waiver of its no-dog policy when an ­applicant could not demonstrate a nexus between her disability and the assistance provided by her dog. The 2-1 decision, filed on July 11, 2016, reversed the Court of Common Pleas affirmance of a Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations adjudication that concluded that Kennedy House violated Section 9-1108(1) of the Philadelphia Fair Practice Ordinance when it denied an accommodation request.

    The dispute began when Jan Rubin ­applied to join the Kennedy House residential cooperative and requested a waiver of its no-dog policy so she may live with her 11-year-old dog, Mira, who Rubin described as a service dog. Kennedy House asked for a letter attesting to a need for the accommodation. The letter she provided from her physician stated that she suffers from multiple medical issues that affects her mobility, benefits from the service the dog provides and that the absence of the dog would impair her ability to function.(1) Her physician then certified in writing, at Kennedy House's request, that she was disabled as defined by federal law and the accommodation was consistent with needs associated with her disability. She was then required to attend a Kennedy House Membership Committee Hearing where she informed the committee that Mira assists her in ordering her day, and in remembering when to take medications, eat meals and get up and out of bed. Her request was denied on the basis that the requested accommodation did not comply with both their own rules and federal law.

    Rubin essentially reiterated her needs when she testified before the commission. However, on cross examination she was asked if Mira performed any tasks that helped her with mobility issues. She ­replied in the negative, stating that the dog "has a timing thing, it reminds me of what I am supposed to be doing." Critically, Rubin further testified that she has not been diagnosed with a mental disability or a psychological ­condition. Her doctor's letters did ­contain any reference to the same.

    The commission found the required nexus between her disability and the need for a companion dog by referring to the relevant portions of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. Section 3604(f), which was amended in 1988 by adding subsection 804(f) ­prohibiting discrimination based on disability. In short, the commission found that the dog provided emotional support that ­alleviated one or more identified disabilities. The commission associated the help the dog ­provided as aiding her to lead a more ordered life—the very thing that her significant chronic pain makes it difficult for her to accomplish. The Court of Common Pleas adopted the commission's findings as its own, finding that its conclusion was based upon substantial evidence.

    In its appeal, Kennedy House agreed that Rubin has a physical disability that limits her ­mobility. Kennedy House alleged the dog would provide only emotional ­support, which was unrelated to Rubin's mobility issues and, since there was no evidence of an emotional or psychological disability, it was error for the commission to order that she be placed at the top of the waiting list for a new unit, with an 

    The issue for the Commonwealth Court was whether Rubin carried her burden that the need for the dog was necessary to afford her an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the unit she sought to purchase, citing Lapid-Laurel v. Zoning Board of Adjustment of Township of Scotch Plains, 284 F. 3d 442, 446 (Third Circuit 2002).

    In order to prove necessity, a plaintiff must establish a nexus between the disability and the assistance the service animal provides (which is not required to be trained), per HUD interpretive rule Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities, 73 FR 63834-01 (2009).

    The Commonwealth Court held she failed to establish the nexus between her disability and the assistance provided by the assistance dog, Mira, citing Bryant Woods Inn v. Howard County, Maryland, 124 F. 3d. 587, 604, which holds "if the proposed accommodation provides no direct amelioration of a disability's effect, it cannot be said to be necessary. The court determined that the direct amelioration of the disability's effect was lacking. The court referred to her testimony where she stated that Mira does not assist her with her mobility—but assists her in reminding her to get out of bed and take medications—which the court interpreted as not directly related to the disability described by her physician.

    The majority cited cases where cats, dogs and a miniature horse were deemed necessary to alleviate both mental and physical ailments. The court distinguished these cases from Rubin's because each contained medical documentation attesting to both mental and physical disabilities.
For more, see Court Interprets Nexus Between Disability and Assistance Dog.
(1) The resident's condition is described in the following excerpt from the court ruling:
  • Ms. Rubin is 61 years of age and suffers from: "(1) degenerative disc disease at multiple levels of her spine; (2) spinal stenosis at multiple levels of her spine; (3) fibromyalgia; (4) chronic pain; and (5) central nervous system sleep apnea."

    Ms. Rubin's conditions affect her mobility and "limit her ability to stand to about [10] to [15] minutes, and her ability to sit to a maximum of [20] to [30] minutes before the pain becomes significant."

    Ms. Rubin finds it difficult to cook for herself or climb stairs. (Id.) Her conditions have "significantly worsened over the past two years," and she "can no longer work."

    Her conditions and the pain from which she suffers "often make[s] it difficult for her to order her day, to get out of bed, to remember to take her medications, and [to] do other simple tasks such as to take a shower, comb her hair[,] and get dressed."

    To assist her in everyday life, Ms. Rubin employs two part-time caregivers and is assisted by her 10- or 11-year-old Plott Hound named Mira. "Mira does not have special training and is a stay-at-home animal that does not accompany Ms. Rubin to places of public accommodation." emotional support

NYC Landlord Faces Fair Housing Lawsuit For Allegedly Responding To Tenant's Request To Have An Emotional Support Animal By Requesting Extensive, Intrusive Medical Records, Reserving Right To Question Tenant, Doc, Therapist Under Oath, Despite Already Being Provided Medical Documentation

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development recently announced:
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced [] it is charging a Manhattan property owner with violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against a resident with disabilities who required the use of an assistance animal. Read HUD's charge.
    The charge was filed on behalf of a man with a disability who sought a reasonable accommodation from 111 East 88th Partners, a business partnership that owns his Manhattan apartment. Specifically, HUD alleges that the partnership failed to grant his request to keep an emotional support animal, citing a prohibition against pets in his lease.

    HUD claims that in response to the man's request for the reasonable accommodation, the partnership requested extensive and intrusive medical records and data. The partnership also reserved the right to subject the man to a medical examination and to question him, his physician, and his therapist under oath.

    HUD's charge alleges that the request for such extensive medical information, after the resident had already provided medical documentation attesting to his disabilities and need for the support animal, interfered with his housing rights, a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Housing Authority That Allegedly Assigned Elderly Residents To Housing Based On Race Rather Than Place On Waiting List, & Restricted Those With Disabilities To One Complex To Cough Up $120K To Settle Fair Housing Lawsuit

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that the Bossier City, Louisiana, Housing Authority (BCHA) has agreed to pay $120,000 and adopt new policies and practices to settle a lawsuit alleging that it discriminated on the basis of race and disability, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The settlement must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

    The complaint alleges that from 2007 to 2014, BCHA assigned elderly residents to housing on the basis of race, rather than by their place on the waiting list, and restricted residents with disabilities primarily to one of BCHA’s seven apartment complexes.

    Specifically, the Justice Department alleges that BCHA assigned white elderly residents to Patricia Plaza I or Patricia Plaza II, the two complexes that it had reserved for elderly persons. By contrast, the complaint alleges that BCHA assigned African-American elderly residents to one of its other five complexes, all of which were at least 90 percent African-American.

    The complaint further alleges that BCHA primarily assigned residents with disabilities to Patricia Plaza II and did not consider such residents for vacancies at BCHA’s six other properties.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Little Rock Housing/Rent Subsidy Program Administrator Admits No Wrong Doing, But Agrees To Cough Up $24K+ To Settle Suit Alleging It Had Improperly Revoked Section 8 Renter's Voucher Based Solely On Landlord's Faulty Eviction Notice; Class Action Hot Water Dodged Despite Claim By Tenants' Lawyer That 964 Other Renters Were Similarly Screwed Over

In Little Rock, Arkansas, ArkansasOnline reports:
  • Little Rock's Metropolitan Housing Alliance will pay nearly $25,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former housing-assistance recipient, according to an agreement finalized [last month].

    In 2014, Brenda Glover sued the agency in federal court, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations when it ended her Section 8 housing-voucher benefits.

    The plaintiff and her attorneys, of the Carney Bates & Pulliam law firm, said the housing alliance revoked her voucher based solely on having received a faulty notice-to-vacate letter from her landlord.

    Glover said she had proof that her rent had already been paid under an agreement signed by the landlord but that the housing alliance didn't consider that before terminating her benefits.

    Glover's housing assistance was reinstated shortly after the lawsuit was filed, but by the next month her attorneys sought to take the case to class-action status, alleging that "MHA's policies and procedures allow families to lose their benefits based upon the uncontested word of tenants' landlords," the lawsuit says.

    The plaintiff's attorneys had found 964 other cases of Section 8 benefits being stripped by the Metropolitan Housing Alliance since October 2011 based solely on notice-to-vacate letters.

    In 2015, federal Judge Leon Holmes denied class-action status in an order stating that Glover's dispute was unique and should be resolved individually.

    Tuesday's settlement awarded Glover $2,217 to cover out-of-pocket costs caused by the sudden displacement and $22,500 in attorney fees, according to court records. The settlement also stipulates that the agreement is a "compromise of disputed claims" and that neither party admits "any liability or wrongdoing."

    "When we brought this case, we wanted to bring it as a class action because based on our client and our preliminary FOIA, we were led to believe there was a systemic problem," Glover's attorney David Slade said, referring to a request for agency data under the state's Freedom of Information Act. "We thought that it could be addressed on a class-wide basis and we might be able to affect some change at MHA."

    Housing alliance Executive Director Rodney Forte said [], "I'm pleased that we were able to come to an amicable decision on this case."

    Since the lawsuit, Glover has exited the agency's voucher program and now receives benefits through the North Little Rock Housing Authority. Glover, who was 53 when the lawsuit was filed, plans to graduate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in December, Slade said.

Housing Voucher Program Administrator, Landlords Admit No Wrong Doing, But Agree To Cough Up $34K To Settle Section 8 Tenant-Whistleblower's False Claims Act ("Qui Tam") Lawsuit Alleging Improper Clipping For Higher Rent Than Amounts Charged To Non-Section 8 Tenants In Comparable Apartments

From a recent news release from the Yankee Institute for Public Policy:
  • Renters using Section 8 housing vouchers were allegedly charged higher rents than unassisted renters in Hartford, according to an action filed in the U.S. District Court for Connecticut.

    The action claimed that Imagineers LLC which administers Hartford’s Section 8 housing voucher program, “improperly approved” housing assistance for monthly rental payments which were higher than “comparable unassisted units.” The residential property companies which rented out the units, Alphabet LLC and Marks LLC, were also accused of violating the False Claims Act.

    The suit was filed by an unnamed individual on behalf of the government – an action known as “qui tam” and allowed under the False Claims Act.(1)
    Although none of the listed companies admitted any wrong-doing, all three settled with the complainant following investigation by the Office of Inspector General “to avoid the delay, uncertainty, inconvenience, and expense of lengthy litigation.”

    Under the settlement Imagineers paid $30,000 to the complainant and his or her attorneys, while Alphabet and Marks paid a combined $4,000. Of that settlement $4,200 was paid to the United States Government.
For the story, see Management company “improperly approved” higher rents for Section 8 housing in Hartford.

For the HUD Inspector General's press release, see The Alphabet Group, LLC, Marks Group, LLC, and Imagineers, Inc., Settled Allegations Related to Section 8 Rent Certifications.
(1) The False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq., allows a private individual, or "whistleblower," with knowledge of past or present fraud committed against the federal government to bring suit on its behalf.

Section 8 Landlords Agree To Cough Up $73K+ To Resolve Civil Lawsuit Accusing Them Of Extracting At Least $18K In Excess Rent Disguised As "Side Payments" From Voucher-Holding Tenant

In Denver, Colorado, The Denver Post reports:
  • Two landlords who rented homes to low-income residents in Cortez have agreed to pay nearly $74,000 to the federal government as part of a settlement in which they were accused of charging excessive rent to Section 8 tenants.

    Deborah and Lawrence Conrads were accused of defrauding the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and violating the agency’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, according to a press release issued [] by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado.

    HUD’s voucher program provides low-income families, the elderly and the disabled with assistance to afford safe and sanitary housing in the private market. Landlords who agree to participate in the program receive housing assistance payments directly from the public housing authority each month to cover a substantial portion of the rent of a unit.

    The maximum rent is determined by the public housing authority and the landlord agrees not to receive any payments from the family for rental of the unit other than the family’s portion of the rent authorized by the authority.

    Federal officials say the Conrads extracted at least $18,000 in excess rent or “side payments” from a family as recently as 2014, even going so far as to enter into a lease extension that increased the rent on the family.

    “When landlords take advantage of the Section 8 program by charging low-income families excessive rent, they undermine HUD’s mission to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all,” Acting U.S. Attorney Troyer said in a statement. “Landlords who defraud HUD face stiff civil penalties.”

    In all, the Conrads paid $73,650 to resolve the allegations made against them, the release said. In entering into a civil settlement, they did not admit liability.
For the story, see Cortez landlords pay to settle Section 8 housing fraud charges (Federal officials say landlords violated HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program).

Ex-Property Manager For Subsidized Housing Complex Gets Pinched For Allegedly Ripping Off Section 8 Tenants For Over $13K In Under-The Table Rent Overcharges

In Altoona, Pennsylvania, the Altoona Mirror reports:
  • A Duncansville man will face charges in Blair County Court that he overcharged some tenants of a subsidized housing complex he once managed.

    Lance P. Conway, 38, [...], appeared in Tyrone District Court [] where he waived charges of felony theft by deception and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds stemming from his tenure as manager of the Tyrone Townhouses.

    According to police, Conway overcharged some residents and applied the overpayments to other residents, a scheme that was uncovered when Conway was off work and another employee of Crossgates Management Inc., which oversees operations of the subsidized housing complex in Tyrone, filled in on July 13, 2013.

    Police said a tenant stopped in at the office to have her Pennsylvania Department of Welfare rent verified and told the fill-in manager she had been paying $187 per month in rent for the past two years. The fill-in manager reviewed the woman’s file through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and discovered her required monthly rent was $99 each month in April and May of 2012 and then $33 per month from June 2012 until July 2013.

    Police said Conway overcharged the woman $2,332 in rent and after an audit of its accounts, the management company found Conway had overcharged various tenants $13,225 between April 2012 and July 2013.

    The overpaid money was then applied to various other tenants without their knowledge.

    When confronted by Tyrone police in November 2015, Conway allegedly admitted he misappropriated money but denied ever taking money for himself. Conway told police there was extraordinary pressure on managers to ensure tenants paid their rent on time so he started charging some tenants more and then applied the extra money to other tenants’ accounts.

    Police said they suspect Conway stole additional money from tenants who paid cash, a charge Conway denied.
For the story, see Housing manager facing charges. side payments

Housing Authority Executive Director: Boost In Local Section 8 Rent Subsidies May Curb Illegal Side Deals Where Landlords Squeeze Tenants Fearful Of Losing Their Apartments For Secret, Under-The-Table Extra Cash

In Hazelton, Pennsylvania, the Standard-Speaker reports:
  • Rents for subsidized housing have increased so landlords might curb demands for extra money from tenants through unauthorized deals, the executive director of the Hazleton Housing Authority said.

    Dorothy George said some landlords want higher rent than the Section 8 program allowed so they asked tenants to secretly pay more cash.

    Such deals violate policy, George said, but they probably have occurred for decades and rarely come to light. Afraid of losing homes, tenants pay extra and keep silent. Sometimes the landlords need more money to cover expenses for the properties.

    Other times, they’re just greedy.

    In one case that George learned of, a landlord repaid extra charges to a tenant who kept receipts and phone messages and threatened court action.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Redevelopment Plans Claim Another Mobile Home Park; Lot-Leasing Homeowners Begin With Efforts To Transport Movable Homes While Older Structures End Up Demolished In Place In Advance Of March 15 Deadline; Possible Fair Housing Act Claim May Be Last Hope For Remaining Residents

In St. Anthony, Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio reports:
  • The Lowry Grove mobile home park in St. Anthony, Minn., has been open for more than 70 years, but residents are hunkering down now for what may be the park's last winter.

    The yards have filled with falling leaves, the streets are pocked with puddles, and the number of gaping holes where mobiles homes once stood is growing.

    In June, a developer, The Village, purchased the park and issued a closure notice, giving residents until March 15 to move out. Slowly, the park is emptying: The Village has struck deals with 38 of the 95 homeowners to relocate. Their homes have either been towed away to other parks, or — if they're too old to be moved — they've been demolished in place.

    The new gaps in the tight rows of homes look like pulled teeth, and the view has been shocking for some long-time residents who are still fighting the park's sale and closure.

    "You come home and your neighbor is gone," Antonia Alvarez said of the demolitions.

    Alvarez, who has lived in the park for 10 years, has led the residents' fight against redevelopment. They've tried every tactic they know: Fundraising, letter-writing, protests — a lawsuit.(1)

    Minnesota state law gives mobile home park residents the right to purchase a park to prevent its closure — but when Lowry Grove residents attempted to do that, their purchase agreement was turned down. In response, they filed a lawsuit to insist on their right to buy it — but a judge ruled that even if there was wrongdoing involved in the deal, the sale would not be reversed. Residents then appealed to St. Anthony's City Council, which, by law, must hold a public hearing to confirm the park's closure.

    [A]fter two hours of emotional testimony from park residents, the council voted to proceed with the closure process. Mayor Jerry Faust said it wasn't within their power do anything differently, because it was a private business transaction.
    In accordance with state law, the council appointed a neutral third party who can now act as a resource for the soon-to-be-displaced residents and walk them through applying for funds from the Minnesota Manufactured Home Relocation Trust Fund.
    Even after the wrenching council hearing, though, Alvarez and other residents have not given up. And they may have a new ally in the federal government.

    John Meade, an enforcement branch chief for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, issued a letter last week saying that HUD would investigate the park's closure as a violation of the Fair Housing Act. The complaint has not been officially filed, but Meade's letter asked that the developer "refrain from taking further action to effect the removal of residents from Lowry Grove during the pendency of the investigation."

Heat From State Environmental Police Over Failing & Overburdened Wastewater Treatment System Serving 59-Unit Mobile Home Park Compels Landlord/Park Operator To Serve Eviction Notices To Entire Community; Neighboring Parks Refuse To Accept Older Trailers, Leaving Many Lot-Leasing Homeowners Holding The Bag

In Shawnee, Oklahoma, Red Dirt Report reports:
  • Residents of Rolling Acres Mobile Home Park were outraged [] when they received a 60-day eviction notice. They are considering a lawsuit after Shawnee attorney Kent Massey invited them to discuss their legal options [].

    In March, Red Dirt Report found that the mobile home park’s lagoon [ie. wastewater treatment system] was overburdened with too many residents on the system. It was leaking less than a mile from the North Canadian River.

    The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had received complaints and served the owner, Stephen H. Sanders with a consent order requiring the lagoon system be fixed in order to continue operations of the park. The order provided a scheduled list of improvements and fined Sanders $6,000. If he did not comply, he could be charged up to $60,000.

    Fifty-nine homes are hooked into a lagoon system which currently should only accommodate approximately 15 mobile homes.
    There have [] been recent homeowners allowed to move onto the property. Whitney Kucera and her partner, Robert Vanzant said they were not told about the lagoon problem when they moved there in June. “We paid $20,000 to buy it and fix it up, cash,” said Vanzant.

    “We had a settlement from a DUI accident,” said Kucero who used the cash to pay for the residence. “Now we don’t have anything. And I’m trying to get my kids back from DHS. How am I going to do that without a house?”

    “We don’t have anything left,” said Vanzant.

    Residents said conditions have deteriorated over the years, including the water quality.

    “When you take a shower, it burns your eyes,” said Courtney Armstrong. “And the water smells like sewage.”

    Sherita Chaffin has MS, a heart condition, and COPD. “The water is so nasty. I got a bacterial infection and had to go to the ER. They told me, ‘Stay away from that well water,’” Chaffin said.

    Many facing ‘no place to go’

    Most residents agree to a rent-to-own purchase of the trailer and therefore are responsible for all repairs. Many don’t stay long enough to pay for the home, so the trailers go largely unrepaired and in worse condition for the next rent-to-own buyer.

    With the hope of home ownership, residents often decide to pay it off and then fix it up. Others purchased their homes from Sanders outright or moved trailers onto the property they purchased. Now, it doesn’t seem to matter.

    “Where am I going to go,” asked Chaffin. “I get $700 a month. Even if my trailer can be moved, I don’t have the money.”

    After checking with other mobile home parks, it seems trailers older than 10 years are not allowed to be moved onto other communities. Fewer land developers and individual land sellers are willing to sell to mobile homeowners and there are city ordinances that don’t allow mobile homes inside city limits.
    The eviction at Rolling Acres comes at a bad time, as disheartened residents don’t know how they’re going to get through the holidays. They don’t know how they will have enough money to find another place to live and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    “He [Sanders] ought to be the one to come out here and tell these kids they won’t get any Christmas,” said Sherita Chaffin. “Those poor little kids.”

    Owner selling park

    Sanders said [] Rolling Acres mobile home park is for sale, but according to the DEQ consent order it appears that selling the property would not make the problem go away. It reads: “No change in the ownership or corporate status of Respondents will affect Respondent’s responsibilities under this order.”

Three Failing Septic Tanks, Raw Sewage Backing Up Into People's Yards Force City To Slap Partial Vacate Order Affecting 12 Families In 64-Unit Mobile Home Park; Park Owner Responds By Refusing To Fix Problem, Abruptly Announcing Plan To Unload Premises, Issuing Eviction Notices To Entire Community

In San Antonio, Texas, the San Antonio Current reports:
  • Residents of Oak Hollow Mobile Park can’t remember when their homes started smelling like sewage.

    “I’ve lived there four years, and then my sisters lived there for at least 15 years before that. It’s always smelled like this, I just never knew where it came from,” said a tenant in his mid-30s, who shares his home with his young daughters on the weekends. “I mostly keep them indoors now.” He asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from his landlord. He says he's already heard about people receiving threats.

    A few weeks ago, the city discovered raw sewage leaking from decrepit septic tanks directly into the mobile park’s soil. One leak was directly underneath a tenant’s house, forcing them to avoid the room above it for months because of the smell. Twelve homes were so foul that the city’s health department was legally bound to tell the tenants, mostly families, to move out and into hotel rooms on the city’s dime–at least until the landlord fixes the problem.

    But the landlord has no intention of fixing his sewage-sodden property. Instead, he appears to be using the city’s emergency action as an excuse to kick the tenants of all 64 units off his Northwest Side property. Some of those tenants, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, say threats from the landlord kept them quiet for years. And now that they've spoken up, they feel they're being punished with eviction.

    On Monday, the residents received a letter from the landlord stating, “The City of San Antonio has condemned the Mobile Home Park and will be giving out notices to vacate."

    The city has done no such thing.

    “We have families that feel as if they are being uprooted by the city,” said Ron Nirenberg, whose District 8 includes the Oak Hollow property. “Really, this is about a mobile home millionaire that has let property go into decay to the point that government has to force compliance.”
    Nirenberg says he initially contacted Mangione after first hearing about the septic tank leaks two weeks ago. When city staff demanded an explanation, Mangione surprisingly agreed that his property was contaminated and uninhabitable and cheerily offered a solution: He’d sell the property.

    The property, located in a section of San Antonio prime for re-development, would likely be an easy—and lucrative—sell. Mangione told the councilman he'd planned on selling it anyway.

    This was not the answer city officials were expecting.

    When the city first decided that 12 of Oak Hollow's homes were too contaminated with sewage to live in, staffers told the tenants that they had a week to move out. Still, they stressed to people that the move to a nearby hotel was only temporary, that it wasn't an eviction, and that the problem would soon be fixed – because in most cases, according to city staff, that's what happens.

    But that's not what Mangione had in mind.

    “The property owner is using this opportunity to further his ultimate goal to sell the property,” said Maria Cesar, communications director for Nirenberg's office.
    According to legal experts, Mangione isn't the first landlord to use city intervention as an easy out.

    “This used to be really common in the 60s, especially with apartment buildings. But it still happens all over the country,” said Victoria Mather, a professor at St. Mary’s School of Law with a background in landlord and tenant law. “When it becomes too expensive for a landlord to fix a problem like this, they sell.”

    A new septic tank could cost upwards of $4,000. Oak Hollow needs at least three. Even if he can't afford to replace the tanks, shouldn’t Mangione at least be reprimanded for ignoring their leaks for years?

    According to Mather, the only way the tenants could legally fight back is if Mangione broke a rental contract that promised maintenance upkeep or specific eviction rules. Aside from that, they have no other protections.

    "You can’t force a landlord to stay in business," she said.
For more, see Landlord Refuses to Fix Raw Sewage Leaks, Evicts Everyone Instead.

See also, City evicting 12 families from homes, citing ‘deplorable' conditions (Families at Oak Hollow Mobile Home Park have 7 days to leave).

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jury Returns Conviction On Charges Of Theft By Deception, Misapplication Of Entrusted Property Against Woman Who Abused POA To Swindle $120K (Including $90K Proceeds From Fraudulently Obtained Home Mortgages) From Elderly Client

In Phillipsburg, New Jersey, The Morning Call reports:
  • A Phillipsburg woman has been convicted of stealing about $120,000 from an elderly town woman whose finances she was managing.

    Frances M. Wise, 61, was acting as power of attorney for Josephine Bacskai, 87, from March 2009 to September 2013 when she depleted Bacskai's savings and took two mortgages on Bacskai's home, prosecutors said.

    A Warren County jury [] convicted Wise of theft, theft by deception and misapplication of entrusted property. Each count is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

    Phillipsburg police Detective Sgt. Douglas Baylor, aided by Steve Unger of the county Office on Aging, determined that Wise drained $30,000 from Bacskai's savings account.

    Wise withdrew part of the savings by using money cards at ATM machines in the Sands Resorts Casino Bethlehem and the Mount Airy Casino in Paradise Township. Prosecutors said Bacskai never had been to either casino.

    The two mortgages against Wise's home netted Wise another $90,000, prosecutors said.

    Wise was replaced by Lisa Marinelli as power of attorney in 2013. Prosecutors said Marinelli discovered the unauthorized withdrawals when she went over the books.

Six Months After Arrest, Upstate NY Prosecutor Obtains Grand Jury Indictment Against Real Estate Operator Suspected Of Using Forged Documents In Snatch & Flip Home Hijacking Racket; Use Of Trust Transfers, Sloppy Handwritten Paperwork Aroused County Officials' Attention To Potentially Fraudulent Deals

In Rennselaer County, New York, the Albany Times-Union reports:
  • A trail of forged documents filed at the Rensselaer County Clerk's Office has resulted in a county grand jury indicting a 46-year-old man on 20 felony counts [].

    Zarak O. Ali of Maiden Lane, Albany, is accused of forging deeds to five foreclosed properties in Brunswick, Rensselaer and Troy from January to March and filing them with the clerk's office, according to the indictment.(1)

    Ali listed his business address as 40 Wall St., New York City, the location for The Trump Building, in leases provided tenants.

    The State Police Special Investigations Unit uncovered evidence of forged deeds in Rensselaer County and six other Capital Region and Hudson Valley counties extending back 18 months. Authorities said the forged deeds affected people who believed they were getting a deal on buying a home or renting an apartment.

    "I'm thrilled he's been indicted," said County Clerk Frank Merola. Members of Merola's staff testified before the grand jury.

    In the indictment handed up to County Judge Andrew Ceresia, Ali was indicted for four counts each of second-degree forgery, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, first-degree falsifying business records and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing.
    County officials said in April said their attention was drawn to the transfers due to them being between two trusts and the sloppy paperwork. The paragraph-long property descriptions and trustees' names were written in by hand instead of typed, which was also suggested something wasn't right, officials said.
For the story, see Rensselaer County indictments filed in fake deed cases (Albany man indicted on 20 felony counts in deeds investigation).
(1) Ali had been earlier arrested on related charges back in April. See NY State Cops Bust Albany Man In Alleged Snatch & Flip Scam (More Arrests Expected In Racket That Used Forged Deeds To Hijack Title To As Many As 80 Homes, Then Sell Or Rent Them To Unwitting Targets Throughout Seven Upstate NY Counties).

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Despite Never Missing Any House Payments, Central Florida Loses 8-Year Foreclosure Battle Over Alleged Recordkeeping Screw-Ups By Multiple Loan Servicers

In Apopka, Florida, WFTV-TV Channel 9 reports:
  • An Apopka couple is being kicked out of their home after losing an eight-year foreclosure battle in court. The couple's own records show they never missed making a mortgage payment, but their lender had a different set of books that showed otherwise.

    Action 9's Todd Ulrich investigated how this happened, and why it should alarm anyone who thinks his mortgage company made a mistake.

    The Mannino's have been packing all their belongings at the house in Apopka since losing the foreclosure fight. Mike Mannino said his American dream of home ownership just died. “We could not believe this was even happening. Never missed a mortgage payment, never was even late with a mortgage payment,” Mannino said.

    Mannino said in 2008, a foreclosure notice that he claimed had to be a mistake arrived from Deutsche Bank.

    Mannino and his wife has canceled checks and tax forms, evidence they said showed a mortgage payment was made every month.

    Later, the servicing company sent a letter, admitting it had applied one payment to someone else's account.

    Two years later, another servicing company took over. Its spreadsheets showed the couple had missing payments. The Manninos were again fighting to keep their house.

    “This is not right. This is not right. Somebody's got to help us,” Mannino said.

    Mannino’s attorney won a court ruling and the appeal that followed.

    It forced the servicing company to produce electronic records that Mannino claimed would show they made every payment. But then the servicing company didn’t turn over the records. “They said they were either lost, stolen or accidentally destroyed (and I think) it’s an absolute lie,” Mannino said.

    The servicer was found in contempt of court, but in the foreclosure trial, the judge ruled the lender’s paper records were good enough.

    The Manninos lost the trial, and their appeal failed just last month.

    Mannino’s attorney, Robert Rasch, said that because the appeal was denied without an opinion, the couple has hit a legal dead end. “I think they were wronged. It is incredible and very hard to believe,” Rasch said.

    Deutsche Bank did not respond to our questions.

    In court, the bank said its records showed several missing payments but it never provided the electronic version of the records.

    Mannino is asking Florida's attorney general to review the case.

Sloppy Loan Servicer Applies House Payments To Wrong Loan, Throwing Home Into Foreclosure; Nationstar Ignores Homeowner's Complaint, Then Quickly Reverses Course When Local Media Consumer Troubleshooter Intervenes, Begins Asking Questions

In St.Charles County, Missouri, KMOV-TV Channel 4 reports:
  • A mortgage mistake nearly cost a St. Charles County woman her condo.

    Kathleen Rasmussen claims she paid Texas based Nationstar each month. "I don't want to lose the roof over my head, I should not be in foreclosure."

    Rasmussen provided News 4 with letters from Nationstar along with returned checks intended to pay her mortgage. "I don't understand why they keep sending it back to me."

    A Kansas City law firm representing Nationstar sent Rasmussen a letter saying their office would "commence foreclosure proceedings."

    After trying to resolve the issue on her own, Rasmussen contacted News 4 Investigates. "We're going round and round in circles and we're not getting anywhere," she said.

    A Nationstar representative followed up with Rasmussen immediately after hearing from News 4. Rasmussen said, "right after that the VP of Nationstar called me and wanted to settle it right away.

    As it turns out, Rasmussen held two mortgages with Nationstar. According to an email from a Nationstar employee to Rasmussen's daughter, "the payments were all applied to the second mortgage."

    Because the payments were only being applied to her second loan, loan number one was in default.

    After discovering the error, Nationstar agreed to waive four mortgage payments and to eliminate all fees associated with foreclosure proceedings. Rasmussen's account is now current, she is no longer facing foreclosure.

    Nationstar recommends writing your account number on each mortgage check to avoid a similar problem.

Another Nationstar Screw-Up; Loan Servicer's Error Sends Home Into Tax Foreclosure, Then Ignores Homeowner's Requests To Make Necessary Correction Until Local Media Consumer Troubleshooter Intervenes

In Paterson, New Jersey, WABC-TV Channel 7 reports:
  • "I literally thought I was going to have a heart attack." Paterson homeowner, Tana McPherson, couldn't figure out why she was slapped with a tax lien on her condo, but there it was in black and white.

    "It's shocking to get something in the mail like that especially when you work every day and pay your bills everyday," she said. McPherson is a public defender in Bergen County. She's used to advocating for the poor and was even more horrified to be informed her tax lien would be publicly advertised twice.

    McPherson says she did pay her taxes, on time, every quarter through her mortgage company, Nationstar, that took her monthly payment and was supposed to escrow a portion to pay her quarterly property taxes.

    What happened to the money? Tana says she doesn't know. So she reached into her own pocket, shelling out nearly 4 grand to get her home off the auction block. That was last June, but good luck getting the money back from Nationstar.

    "I made several phone sent emails and I never got answered," said McPherson.

    So we contacted the mortgage servicer. In 24 hours two checks for the taxes she had to pay twice arrived.

    "You were an advocate for me, you're an advocate for the people and we need you," said McPherson.

    A Nationstar rep admitted fault, blaming the huge mistake on "off shore customer service reps" who work for an outside company. To make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else, it's looking into retraining customer service reps.

    The big takeaway, if your mortgage company pays your taxes and insurance, pay attention to your yearly escrow statement to make sure the balance is correct. And call to your local tax collector to see if your taxes are getting paid on time.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Detroit-Area Real Estate Operator Who Made Career Using Land Contracts To Peddle Dilapidated Money Pits Bought On The Cheap At Tax Auctions To Naive Homebuyers Continues Being Thorn In Local Officials' Side

In Detroit, Michigan, Crain's Detroit Business reports:
  • Ernest Karr is the king of Detroit blight.

    Companies tied to Karr have racked up an unpaid ticket for missing inspection certificates, unmowed lawns, trash in the yard or other violations on houses in Detroit an average of every 50 hours over more than a decade.

    And even though the 78-year-old Karr has this mountain of blight judgments and unpaid property taxes, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who knows him by name.

    They know his companies, though, with $1.11 million in blight judgments — more than double the $496,000 the city says it's owed by its second-highest blight judgment debtor, Deutsche Bank National Trust Co., a subsidiary of Deutsche Bank Holdings Inc.

    More than 30 business entities have ties to Karr, a Bloomfield Township resident who has been making money in the city for more than three decades, buying houses at government auctions on the cheap and renting or selling them via land contract. His companies have been able to amass such a large blight-violation debt for a number of reasons, including bare-bones collection efforts and city and county staff that have been spread thin as their ranks have been slashed amid financial crises.

    Even a new state law aimed at preventing problem landlords from getting more property doesn't appear to be working as well as its proponents had hoped in his case.

    A company operating out of Karr's office on Grand River Avenue near Hubbell Street bought 44 properties at Wayne County's tax-foreclosure auction last year, more than 10 months after the law took effect, according to land records.

    In addition to Karr's blight debt, the city of Detroit, still bearing the scars from the nation's largest Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, says Karr owes $369,000 in property taxes stemming from just the 2013 Wayne County tax-foreclosure auction of 61 homes his companies owned. That's according to lawsuits filed in August.

    Karr — who didn't return repeated requests for comment at his office, home and through his attorneys over the past six weeks — is not the only person the city and others consider a problem landlord.

    "We have a long tradition of people getting very wealthy exploiting the housing stock and residents of the city," said Sheila Cockrel, a former longtime Detroit City Council member who is now president of Detroit-based Crossroads Consulting & Communications Group. "Slum landlords have been exploiting residents and neighborhoods since the 1950s and 1960s."
    [A]though Karr owns substantially fewer properties than he has in years past — perhaps fewer than 50 these days — he still keeps buying.

    Theoretically, Karr should not be able to purchase properties at the tax-foreclosure auction at all under a state law passed in the 2014 lame-duck legislative session and made effective Jan. 14, 2015, after receiving Gov. Rick Snyder's signature.

    The intent was to prevent landlords like Karr and others from erasing tax debts by letting their properties slip into foreclosure and then buying them back at auction for far less than what was owed on them. [...] But Ted Phillips says otherwise. He and others say the law boots home occupants to the streets while failing to prevent buyers like Karr from purchasing more properties. The entire regulatory framework needs to be scrapped and rewritten, said the longtime executive director of the nonprofit United Community Housing Coalition.
    A building at 14815 Grand River advertises home ownership for as little as $1,500. A welcome sight, perhaps, for some in a city of 700,000 where the poverty rate is 39.8 percent, according to the latest American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau. [...] But the advertised price of $1,500 only tells part of the story for homes purchased on land contract. The $1,500 is essentially the down payment, and then it is more akin to a rent-to-own situation, where the buyer pays monthly and that is put toward the principal amount owed.
For more, see State law can't stop king of Detroit blight (Ernest Karr has racked up more judgments for unpaid blight tickets than anybody in Detroit). land contract for deed rent-to-own

Incorrect Legal Description, Failure To Have Premises Surveyed When Obtaining Title Insurance Policy Before Buying Leaves Homeowner/Couple Out $172K & Facing The Boot; Insurer's Response: Not Our Problem!

Investigative Reporter David Dayen writes in VICE:
  • Danny Shedd's nightmare began with some cows.

    When Shedd, a 12-year veteran with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, finished up his military service at Fort Benning, Georgia, he and his wife Jacinda wanted to move to the prairie. The house they settled on in Big Cabin, Oklahoma, was perfect: a 5,400 square-foot, four-bedroom spot built in 2006, which mortgage giant Fannie Mae purchased in a foreclosure auction and was selling for one-third of its appraised value.

    After inspections and appraisals, the Shedds closed on the house in June 2015, paying $172,425 cash—the product of years of saving. "They said congratulations on your new home," Shedd told me.

    The vet's honorable Army discharge didn't come through until that August, so Shedd settled his wife and kids in the new digs before returning to Fort Benning. But Jacinda soon began complaining about the neighbors' cows lurking around the place at all hours. They would pass through a broken fence and eat the backyard grass, according to Shedd, with cow shit littering the space where his kids wanted to play. Shedd decided to rebuild the fence himself, enlisting a surveyor so he knew exactly where to place it.

    The surveyor came back with bad news: According to the deed, the property Shedd paid for was actually ten wooded acres to the north, in a flood plain. The house his family was living in wasn't even on the property they had the rights to.

    Worst of all, the neighbors are now saying the house belongs to them, and are trying to get the Shedds evicted.

    The bizarre situation speaks to a potential time bomb lurking behind an untold number of US residential mortgages. During the housing bubble that went bust in 2007 and 2008, mortgage companies routinely ignored longstanding property records laws. So defects—whether due to inaccurate deeds or fraudulent transfer documents—have sown chaos in county recording offices and foreclosure courts. These defects create ruptures in the "chain of title," confusing who holds true ownership over properties.

    Shedd's plight shows the potential consequences for unsuspecting homeowners, who can become innocent victims of a housing market assembled on a mountain of fraud. The only question is how far the ruptures have spread.
    The vet figured his title insurance company would resolve the matter, because title insurers are supposed to protect policyholders from defects in their titles. But when he appealed to American Eagle Title Insurance Company, the insurer retained an outside lawyer, Mark Kuehling, to review the claim. "The mistaken possession of the wrong parcel does not constitute a defect to the insured land," Kuehling wrote to the Shedds.

    In other words, Shedd buying ten wooded acres instead of the house he thought he was getting wasn't the title insurer's problem.

    In Shedd's closing documents, he did sign a "hold harmless" form certifying that he did not conduct a survey on the property, and that the title insurer would not be liable for "any damages due to any such discrepancies."
    Central to Shedd's dilemma, it seems, was the cash purchase. "If this were financed, the bank would have done a minimal survey to draw the lot lines," according to Tara Twomey, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. "The fact that he paid in cash meant that he didn't have a second person doing due diligence."

    American Eagle's insistence that they exclude a bad property description from claims raises the question of how bad this could get the further we get from the foreclosure crisis. While the survey exclusion is standard, could title insurers similarly refuse to pay out for all the mistakes that clouded properties throughout the 2000s? "Insurance agencies only make money if they don't have to pay out," Twomey said. "My guess is most people have no idea that this is excluded in their policy." ...

Federal Judge Slams Brakes On Housing Authority's Habit Of Busting Into Indigent Tenants' Apartments Without Search Warrants, Permission, Or Exigent Circumstances To Conduct Sweeps With Drug-Sniffing Dogs

In East Chicago, Indiana, The Indiana Lawyer reports:
  • The city of East Chicago and its housing authority have been ordered to stop what the ACLU of Indiana is calling “warrantless, nonconsensual entry” into residents’ homes after a district court ruled that doing so violated Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure.

    In an order entered in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana [] in the case of Mary Gutierrez and Shawn Polk v. City of East Chicago, et al., 2:16-CV-111, federal Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen adopted a magistrate’s report that prohibits the East Chicago Housing Authority from entering and searching its residents home without warrants or consent absent emergency circumstances. The report had previously been issued by magistrate Judge Paul Cherry on Sept. 6.(1)

    The ECHA offers affordable housing options and promotes self-sufficiency skills for low-income residents.

    In the past, the housing authority has entered the homes of the residents at least once a year without search warrants, permission or emergency circumstances that would justify warrantless entry and conducted drug sweeps using drug-sniffing dogs, according to a [recent] release from the ACLU, which filed the class-action suit on behalf of all ECHA tenants.

    “Indigent citizens cannot be asked to forego their Fourth Amendment rights as a condition for living in subsidized housing,” Jan Mensz, ACLU staff attorney, said in a statement. “We argued, and yesterday the judge agreed, that ECHA’s policy of not seeking tenant consent or a warrant before entering their homes or using drug-sniffing dogs at their door violates its tenants’ reasonable expectation of privacy in their home, a place where Fourth Amendment protections are at their strongest.”

    Carla Morgan, East Chicago city attorney, said once the ACLU suit was filed, the housing authority was willing to alter the terms of its lease agreements and change its policy on searches. However, there were other issues that ECHA and the ACLU were unable to resolve, which is why the suit continued in court, Morgan said.

    The ACLU requested a preliminary injunction prohibiting the city and the ECHA from conducting the warrantless searches in situations where there are no exigent circumstances.

    The district court granted the preliminary injunction, writing that the city and the housing authority must stop all general warrantless, non-consensual searches, as well as drug-dog searches and other similar warrantless criminal searches when there is no emergency to justify doing so.
For more, see Judge: East Chicago Housing Authority must stop warrantless home searches.
(1) Gutierrez v. City of East Chicago, 2:16-CV-111 (N.D. Ind. September 6, 2016). Section 8 raid

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Civil Rights Feds Squeeze $30K Out Of Western Pennsylvania Landlord To Settle Allegations That He Refused To Rent To Families With Young Kids; Score Another Win For Fair Housing Testers

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that a Johnstown, Pennsylvania, landlord has agreed to pay $30,000 to resolve allegations that he discriminated against families with children in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

    The department’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and alleged that Robert Kormanik, the rental manager for Kinamrok Apartments, and Kinamrok Inc., the corporate entity that owns the complex, discriminated against families with children by prohibiting them from renting one- and two-bedroom units.

    The allegations were based on evidence generated by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Unit, in which individuals pose as prospective renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices. The department’s testing revealed that Kormanik told testers children were not allowed in one-bedroom units. He also refused to inform testers about available two-bedroom units until the testers assured him that no children would reside there.

    “Although it may appear in discrete forms, housing discrimination against families with children remains a persistent problem,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s Civil Rights Division. “Around the country, the Justice Department will continue to aggressively enforce the Fair Housing Act, as we did here in Johnstown, to ensure that families with children can obtain housing without facing unlawful, discriminatory barriers.”

    “We are dedicated to ensuring that families with children are not discriminated against when seeking housing here in Western Pennsylvania,” said U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton of the Western District of Pennsylvania. “Today’s settlement demonstrates our commitment to making sure that owners of rental properties understand their obligations under the Fair Housing Act, and follow the law.”

    Under the terms of the consent order, which still must be approved by the court, Kormanik and Kinamrok will establish a settlement fund of $20,000 to compensate victims of their alleged discriminatory practices. The defendants will also pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the United States. The agreement prohibits the defendants from engaging in further acts of discrimination and requires them to implement a non-discrimination policy and submit reports to the United States for three years. Kormanik and any other employee involved in the management of, or the rental of units at, Kinamrok Apartments must also receive training on the Fair Housing Act.

    Individuals who believe they may have been discriminated against at Kinamrok Apartments because they sought to reside there with children should contact the department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 995, or e-mail Kinamrok Apartments are located at 400 Luray Avenue, 1001 Tener Street, 1010 Tener Street and 105 Kinamrok Avenue in Johnstown.

Fair Housing Testers, Non-Profit Disability Rights Group Bag Slick Landlord, Property Managers Who Allegedly Required Renter's Healthcare Provider To Accept Responsibility For Any Property Damage/Physical Injury That Prescribed Emotional Support Animal For Autistic 7-Year Old Child May Cause; Payments To Tenants To Settle Suit Leaves Operators $45K Poorer

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):
  • The Justice Department announced [] that the owners and managers of four multi-family apartment complexes in the Salt Lake City area have agreed to pay $45,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against tenants and prospective tenants with disabilities.

    The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, alleges that the defendants failed to provide reasonable accommodations for certain tenants with disabilities who sought to live with their assistance animals.

    The department’s complaint alleges, among other things, that the defendants – the property management company NALS Apartment Homes; the owners of Pinnacle Highland Apartments, Cobble Creek Apartments and Sky Harbor Apartments; and the former owners of Thornhill Park Apartments – required tenants with disabilities who sought to live with an assistance animal to have a healthcare provider complete a “prescription form” suggesting that the healthcare provider may be held responsible for any property damage or physical injury that the assistance animal may cause. The defendants did not require tenants without disabilities who had pets to have a third party assume liability for their animals.

    The lawsuit arose as a result of complaints by both former tenants and Utah’s Disability Law Center (DLC)(1) filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. DLC, a non-profit organization that works to promote equal housing opportunities in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, sent testers posing as prospective renters to the defendants’ apartment buildings to determine whether they were engaging in discriminatory practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

    “The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make accommodations for individuals with disabilities who require assistance animals in their homes,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department remains deeply committed to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and holding accountable housing providers who utilize discriminatory policies.”

    “This office will not tolerate business practices that deprive those with disabilities their rights to housing accommodations required under the law,” said U.S. Attorney John W. Huber of the District of Utah. “We will vigorously pursue those who fail to comply with these standards.”

    Under the terms of the consent order, which must still be approved by the court, the defendants are required to pay $20,000 to a former tenant and her seven-year-old son with autism who were denied permission to keep the child’s assistance animal after the child’s doctor refused to assume liability for any possible damages caused by the animal.

    The defendants are also required to pay $25,000 to establish a settlement fund to compensate any additional individuals who were harmed by their conduct. The settlement also prohibits the defendants from engaging in future discrimination and requires them to establish a non-discriminatory reasonable accommodation policy, use non-discriminatory reasonable accommodation application forms and have the relevant employees participate in fair-housing training.

    Individuals who have a disability and believe they were improperly denied the opportunity to live with their assistance animal or received a substantially delayed decision in response to a request to live with their assistance animal at one of the four apartment complexes listed above should contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, option 994, or email the department at
Source: Justice Department Settles with Salt Lake City-Area Apartment Complexes to Resolve Allegations of Discrimination Against Individuals with Disabilities.
(1) The Disability Law Center is a Salt Lake City, Utah-based private, non-profit organization designated by Utah’s governor as the state's Protection and Advocacy agency. Its mission is to enforce and strengthen laws that protect the opportunities, choices and legal rights of Utah residents with disabilities.

Another Zoning Dispute, Another Fair Housing Complaint; City Gets Belted With Lawsuit Over Its Refusal To Grant Building Permit To Non-Profit Group To Construct 4-Bedroom Single Family Home To House Three Unrelated Adults With Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities

In New Albany, Indiana, WSCH Radio 99.3 FM reports:
  • A zoning dispute has led to a lawsuit accusing the City of Lawrenceburg of discriminating against people with disabilities.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit on behalf of New Horizons Rehabilitation, Inc. against the city [] in U.S. District Court in New Albany.

    New Horizons is a Batesville-based non-profit that provides job training, day services, home and respite care, and support services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout southeast Indiana.

    New Horizons already operates five homes for disabled people in the region. In 2013, the organization was donated property in Lawrenceburg with the understanding that a home for individuals with disabilities would be built on the site zoned R-1 for “single, two, and multi family residential,” according to the city zoning code. The planned four-bedroom home would provide housing for three unrelated, disabled adults.

    “The home would not need any additional parking or anything else different than the other single-family residences in the neighborhood and would be indistinguishable from those residences,” the eight-page complaint states.

    In 2014, the builder hired by New Horizons to build the home sought the proper building permits from the City of Lawrenceburg. When the city’s zoning director learned of the home’s purpose, he told New Horizons that the home was considered a “four-unit boarding house/medical facility”.(1)

    The organization was asked to seek a variance from the Lawrenceburg Advisory Plan Commission. New Horizons officials and attorneys attempted to persuade the zoning director and city attorney over the past two years that the home would not be a boarding facility, but the city has maintained its position.

    “Individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities are people first, and they have the right to live, work, play and have fun in the community of their choice, just like everyone else,” Marie E. Dausch, executive director of New Horizons, said in an ACLU news release. “We are in an era of full inclusion for everyone in our communities and cultures. Discrimination is not a part of this, especially by government officials.”

    New Horizons has not taken a variance request to the city’s plan commission.

    The ACLU says Lawrenceburg is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Amendments Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Indiana law.
For the story, see ACLU, New Horizons Lawsuit Accuses Lawrenceburg Of Discrimination Against Disabled.

For the lawsuit, see New Horizons Rehabilitation, Inc. v. City of Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
(1) See Lawrenceburg sued for allegedly discriminating against people with disabilities in zoning issue:
  • The ACLU is challenging that directive in court, saying Indiana Code 12-28-4-8 protects the construction of a supported living home in a single-family residential zoning district.

    That portion of the state code specifically reads, “A residential facility for individuals with a developmental disability: for not more than eight individuals with a developmental disability…is a permitted residential use that may not be disallowed by any zoning ordinance in a zoning district or classification that permits residential use.”

Judge: Landlord Not Blameless, But Not Guilty Of Manslaughter In Deaths Of Six Tenants Who Perished In Building Fire; Blaze Deemed Accidental Despite Prosecutors' Evidence That Premises' Conditions Became Out Of Hand, Containing Illegally-Converted Units They Described As "Death Traps", Lacking Maintenance & Fire Safety Measures, Facing Foreclosure

In Portland, Maine, The Associated Press reports:
  • The owner of a building where six people were killed in a fire was acquitted Friday of manslaughter but was convicted of a code violation for converted attic rooms described by prosecutors as "death traps."

    Gregory Nisbet was found not guilty of the most serious charges of manslaughter, which carry a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. He also was acquitted of some lesser charges but was convicted for not having an adequate means of escape from third-floor rooms.

    Prosecutors argued at trial that the screams of three victims trapped in the third floor indicated they were alive and would've survived if they had another way to escape. Those rooms were "death traps," they told the judge, who presided over the nonjury trial.

    The defense contended the state was trying to hold Nisbet to a higher standard by classifying the home as a boarding house.

    In delivering the verdict, Justice Thomas Warren said Nisbet was not "blameless" for the deadly blaze but the evidence was insufficient to convict him of recklessly causing the deaths.

    The case was widely watched in Maine, where no landlord has been successfully prosecuted for manslaughter because of poor building conditions. Nisbet faces up to 180 days in jail on the code violation when he is sentenced.

    At trial, prosecutors also presented evidence that Nisbet's building lacked working smoke detectors and other safety measures. He had stopped maintaining the building and vetting tenants because it was in foreclosure, they said. Conditions had gotten so out of hand that some people were living temporarily in the cellar or even outside using extension cords for electricity, prosecutors said.

    The fire swept through the apartment house early on Nov. 1, 2014, after a Halloween party. Killed in the blaze were Nicole Finlay, David Bragdon Jr., Ashley Thomas and Christopher Conlee, along with Topsham resident Maelisha Jackson. Rockland resident Steven Summers was hospitalized and died two days later. Several others were able to escape.

    The fire was determined to be an accident, blamed on improperly discarded smoking materials on the porch. The remnants of the house have since been demolished.

    "If there's anything good coming out of this, it's hopefully a change in the way (the safety) code is looked at, and the way residencies are rented," said prosecutor Bud Ellis.

    Several family members were on hand for the verdict, and many members of the audience sighed or wept as Warren read the verdict. Civil lawsuits stemming from the fire are still pending.

    Nisbet did not speak during the court appearance. His attorney, Matthew Nichols, agreed with prosecutors that the case was a sobering lesson for landlords about the importance of safety.

    "The effect of this process has been to put every landlord within shouting distance on notice that they don't want to go through this," Nichols said.

    Since the fire, the city has created a Housing Safety Office and a rental housing registration and inspection program. More than 18,000 rental units have been registered and more than 800 properties have been inspected.

Used As High-End Rooming House, Recently-Foreclosed, 3-Story L.A. Mansion Burns To The Ground; 84-Year Old Owner-Occupant Landlord Feared Dead, All Eleven Tenants Make It Out Alive

In the Mt. Washington section of Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times reports:
  • Firefighters were searching through the smoldering ashes of a Mt. Washington mansion [], looking for the possible remains of its owner, who was last seen running toward his bedroom when the fire erupted.

    “We will continue to stabilize the building and search the premises to determine if he is inside,” said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.

    Fire officials said there were a dozen people living at the home, including the 84-year-old owner. Neighbors described a “rotating residency” there, Humphrey said.

    The fire was reported about 8:30 p.m. in the 4000 block of North Sea View Avenue at 9,100 square-foot home on a steep hillside.

    Flames overtook the three-story home, and about 9:15 p.m., an explosion was reported. Aerial footage from KCBS-TV Channel 2 showed blue-colored flames shooting from the structure.

    At least one person was injured: A 74-year-old woman who suffered from smoke inhalation. Humphrey said she was in fair condition.

    It took almost three hours for 143 firefighters to knock down the blaze, which Humphrey said was a “very difficult firefight” with cactus surrounding the steep hillside home.

    At one point three helicopters circled, surveying the property and monitoring whether embers ignited nearby brush.

    Daniel Nateras of Oxnard said he was one of the home’s tenants. A roommate alerted Nateras to the fire, saying that it had started in a lower floor, he recalled.

    After learning of the fire, the 84-year-old landlord ran toward his bedroom and did not come out, Nateras said.

    The cause of the fire is under investigation.

    The home was largely destroyed and Humphrey said fire crews must be careful the remaining structure doesn’t collapse as they search the scene.

    The Department of Building and Safety was called to the scene to help stabilize the structure and determine whether nearby homes were in any danger.

    On the narrow, winding street — characteristic of Mt. Washington, a neighborhood northeast of downtown Los Angeles — tenants cried and embraced Thursday night. “They were very emotional,” Humphrey said.
Source: Firefighters search smoldering ruins of Mt. Washington mansion for missing owner.

See also, Fire Guts Huge Home in Mount Washington; Officials Using Cadaver Dogs to Search for 84-Year-Old Missing Man:
  • The missing man was initially thought to be the owner of the home, but [LA Fire Department spokesman David] Ortiz said [] the home had been in foreclosure and was recently sold.