United States Settles Disability Discrimination Case Involving Residents and Prospective Residents of a Senior Housing Community
The United States announced yesterday that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has approved a consent order resolving allegations that three defendants — Heritage Senior Living LLC; Westrum Hanover LP; and GAHC3 Bethlehem PA ILF LLC — violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against residents and prospective residents with disabilities at Traditions of Hanover (Traditions), a senior housing apartment complex in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The lawsuit, which the United States filed on May 13, 2020, alleges that from at least 2005 to the present, defendants created and implemented a series of discriminatory tenant occupancy and eligibility policies and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities, including requiring residents to sign a lease that imposes conditions such as requiring an initial physical assessment as a requirement of tenancy and potential eviction if a resident develops certain health conditions. In addition, Traditions maintained policies that required residents who use wheelchairs to transfer from their wheelchairs into a dining room chair and required residents who used motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs to pay a non-refundable deposit. In addition, the complaint alleges that the defendants provide transportation as an amenity and that until 2013, that transportation was inaccessible to people who used wheelchairs, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Under the consent order, defendants will pay a minimum of $250,000 and a maximum of $325,000 into a settlement fund to compensate residents and prospective residents who were harmed by these policies. Defendants will also pay a $55,000 civil penalty to the United States. In addition, defendants will appoint a Fair Housing Act compliance officer at Traditions and other senior living facilities, and will implement new resident policies, including a new reasonable accommodation policy and a new motorized wheelchair policy.
“The Fair Housing Act protects the right of individuals with disabilities to enjoy a home to the same extent as everyone else. Common decency, our shared humanity, our nation’s commitment to justice, and our inalienable right to pursue happiness demands no less, and so does the law. Discriminating against people with disabilities is wrong and illegal, and the Justice Department will vigorously continue to enforce the Fair Housing Act to combat this unlawful conduct and obtain relief for its victims,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “This consent order will ensure that all prospective and current residents at Traditions and other senior living facilities are treated equally and that victims of past discrimination receive compensation for the harms they have suffered.”
“Seniors should not have to worry about losing their lease simply because they become disabled,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “The Fair Housing Act protects them, and everyone, from discrimination in housing, and my office will continue to ensure that apartment buildings follow the law.”
Individuals who are entitled to share in the settlement fund will be identified through a process established in the consent order. Persons who believe that they or their family members were subjected to unlawful discrimination at Traditions should contact the Justice Department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743 mailbox #92 or e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at email@example.com, or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp.