The Justice Department today announced a settlement with the city of San Jacinto, California, that resolves a lawsuit alleging disability discrimination filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Under the settlement, San Jacinto has changed its laws to comply with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition, the city has agreed to pay a total of $746,599 in compensatory damages to housing providers and former residents with disabilities, including private plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs, as well as a $10,000 civil penalty to the United States. The settlement is subject to court approval.
The Justice Department’s complaint, which was filed in November 2012, alleged that San Jacinto violated the FHA and the ADA by enacting an ordinance intended to exclude unlicensed and some licensed homes for persons with disabilities from the city, and by targeting homes for persons with disabilities for enforcement of the ordinance and other local laws.
“Municipalities and other governmental entities cannot violate federal civil rights statutes by hiding behind intentionally discriminatory laws designed to appear neutral on their face,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “No American should be denied his or her rights, subjected to harassment or excluded from our communities because of a disability. We commend the city for working cooperatively to resolve this matter and to enact legislation to safeguard the fair housing rights of its residents with disabilities.”
The city’s enforcement efforts included an early morning sweep of unlicensed group homes for persons with disabilities by city officials in November 2008, including the city attorney and representatives of the city’s Code Enforcement and Public Works Departments, as well as armed and uniformed law enforcement officers of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department acting as agents for the city. The officials arrived at the homes unannounced and without warrants and interrogated the residents from a prepared questionnaire targeted to persons with mental disabilities. The questions included whether the residents were or ever had been drug addicts or alcoholics; whether they suffered from any form of mental illness, and if so, what type; whether they were taking “psych” medications, and if so, what kind; whether they or other residents were currently using illegal drugs or alcohol; whether they were on parole or probation; and whether they were registered sex offenders.
“Federal laws protect the fair housing rights of all people, and no local zoning or harassment can change that,” said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Dave Ziaya. “HUD and the Department of Justice remain committed to ensuring that everyone has access to housing free of discrimination, including people with disabilities.”
The case arose as a result of complaints filed with HUD by two providers of housing for persons with disabilities in the city. HUD investigated the complaints and referred them to the Justice Department, which conducted an investigation pursuant to the Attorney General’s independent authority under the FHA and the ADA.
The department’s lawsuit is being resolved together with a lawsuit filed by the two HUD complainants and a third individual whose case was consolidated with that of the United States. The settlement prohibits the city from imposing restrictions on housing for persons with disabilities that are not imposed on housing for an equal or greater number of persons without disabilities. This includes numerical occupancy limits on group housing for unrelated persons with disabilities that are more restrictive than numerical occupancy limits for families or other unrelated persons.
As part of the agreement, the city adopted an ordinance that creates a new zoning classification, “Group Home for Persons with Disabilities,” and under the ordinance, such homes are permitted use in all residential zones. The city also revised its process for providing persons with disabilities exceptions to its zoning and land use requirements to comport with the FHA and the ADA. The agreement also requires the city to pay for fair housing training of its officials, including council members and law enforcement officers employed by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department; maintain records relating to future proposals for housing for persons with disabilities; and submit periodic compliance reports to the department for a period of five years.
The federal FHA prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. Title II of the ADA prohibits governments from discriminating on the basis of disability in administering their zoning laws. More information on the obligation of city and county governments not to discriminate on the basis of disability is available on the department’s website . Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination may call the housing discrimination tip line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the department at firstname.lastname@example.org , or contact HUD at 1-800-896-7743.