Owner May Be Liable for Discrimination Related to Renovation Work
Facts: A disabled resident's immune system is unable to filter out toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and asbestos. She sued the site owner and property management company for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, claiming that they failed to make a reasonable accommodation for her disability, and under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodation among recipients of federal financial assistance.
The resident claimed that the owner and manager knew of her disability yet denied her reasonable accommodation when they refused to replace the new defective cabinets in her kitchen and bathroom, and failed to put in a ventilation system to filter out the poisonous air that supposedly emanated from these cabinets. She argued that the owner and manager, which are recipients of federal financial assistance, intentionally discriminated against her based on her disability by renovating the unit so as to remove accessible features and refused to remedy these problems when notified they were in violation of the Rehabilitation Act.
The resident filed the complaint under a procedure to have the filing fee waived because she couldn't afford the fee. Through this process, the court was allowed to review her complaint to make an initial determination as to whether any of her claims were frivolous.
Ruling: A Nevada district court ruled that she may pursue these claims.
Reasoning: The resident's complaint alleged enough facts to support a discrimination action. A cause of action arising under the Fair Housing Act applies to the rental of housing provided with federal financial assistance. And to prevail on a federal discrimination claim, the resident must prove that she is handicapped within the meaning of the law; that the owner knew or should reasonably be expected to know of the handicap; that the accommodation of the handicap may be necessary to afford the handicapped person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; that the accommodation is reasonable; and that the owner and manager refused to make the requested accommodation. The court ruled that the resident could possibly prove these elements during the course of the trial.
- Wisniewski v. Vitus Group, Inc., November 2011