The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the city of San Jacinto, Calif., alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act based on its treatment of group homes for persons with disabilities. This lawsuit is part of the Justice Department’s continuing effort to enforce civil rights laws that require states and municipalities to end discrimination against, and unnecessary segregation of, persons with disabilities.
The lawsuit, filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that the city has impermissibly restricted the ability of group homes for people with disabilities to operate within the city. Under the city’s zoning code, group homes that are not required to be licensed by the state, as well as some licensed homes, are not permitted uses in any zoning district within the city, and their ability to operate in multi-family zones is restricted. The United States’ lawsuit further alleges that the city targeted housing for persons with disabilities for enforcement actions, including a November 2008 sweep in which city and county officials, including armed and uniformed police officers and sheriff’s deputies, appeared at homes unannounced and interrogated residents with disabilities from a prepared questionnaire that included intrusive questions targeted to persons with mental disabilities. The complaint also alleges that the city has conditioned the grant of reasonable accommodations on the adoption of unwarranted limitations on the residents of homes for persons with disabilities.
This lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the operators of group homes who were impacted by the city’s discriminatory enforcement activities.
The suit seeks a court order preventing the city from enforcing its laws in a way that unlawfully discriminates on the basis of disability, and prohibiting the city from failing to make reasonable accommodations. It also seeks monetary damages to compensate victims and a civil penalty.
“No person should be denied an equal opportunity for housing in his or her community, or suffer harassment or intimidation, because he or she is a person with a disability,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to preventing discriminatory treatment of people with disabilities.”
“This suit is part of my office’s continuing efforts, in partnership with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, to ensure that all residents of the Central District are accorded the rights to which they are entitled under the law,” said André Birotte Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. “Under the law, people with disabilities, including mental disabilities, must be given the opportunity to live in our community, free from discriminatory efforts to exclude them. This suit seeks to ensure that this opportunity is fully and fairly provided.”
“Local governments may not zone out people with disabilities from the opportunity to live in mainstream communities,” said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and DOJ are united in our efforts to combat unlawful interference with the rights of people with disabilities, whether in the form of unfair zoning restrictions, selective enforcement of ordinances, or otherwise.”
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services and activities. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt . Individuals who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination or have information related to this lawsuit can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at email@example.com , or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 1-800-669-9777.
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.