Owner Not Liable for Discrimination
Facts: A resident with mental illness failed to pay at least some portion her January 2014 rent within the time required under her lease. Due to her late rent payment, the owner initiated eviction proceedings against her in state court and secured a judgment against her on April 2, 2014.
On April 1, 2014, a paralegal sent a letter to the owner asking that it “withdraw the eviction action” as a reasonable accommodation for the resident’s mental illnesses. The owner denied that request on June 12, 2014, in a letter, which explained that allowing such an accommodation would modify the HUD model lease and, therefore, be inappropriate.
After the owner denied this initial request for an accommodation, a lawyer followed up on the resident’s behalf to propose alternative accommodations. These alternatives were either that the resident place the owner on an automatic payment schedule negotiated directly with her bank or that she could appoint a representative payee or voluntary conservator to ensure that rent was always paid in full and on time. The resident claimed that the owner accepted the second proposed accommodation and offered her a settlement agreement that would’ve allowed her to regain occupancy of the unit, so long as she paid all of the money that she owed. But the resident didn’t sign the agreement; instead, she sued the owner for discrimination.
The owner argued that there was no discrimination because the initial accommodation the resident requested was unreasonable and because the owner offered her a reasonable alternative accommodation that she refused to accept. The owner asked the court to dismiss all the resident’s claims.
Ruling: A Connecticut district court dismissed all the resident’s claims.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the resident’s first request for an accommodation wasn’t reasonable, because it would have required the owner to make fundamental or substantial modifications to the lease in order to accommodate her. The law does not require such accommodations to be made.
With regard to her second request for an accommodation, either having her bank directly pay the landlord or having a third party oversee the payment of her rent, the court deemed that these were more reasonable. But the resident didn’t explain why she rejected this accommodation and didn’t provide a counter-offer. Thus, she failed to raise a plausible inference that the owner denied her an accommodation or refused to accommodate her disability.
- Polite v. Winn Residential, January 2016