PHA May Be Liable for Using 'Personal Care Sponsor Agreement'
Facts: When a resident applied for housing at a local PHA, she was offered a lease and a blank copy of a Personal Care Sponsor Agreement (PCS form). The form's preamble stated that, “Applicant upon acceptance for occupancy at the Vernon Housing Authority (VHA) verified his/her personal health condition is favorable for self-maintenance and independent living.” By executing the PCS form, a resident designates a “sponsor,” who accepts various responsibilities such as receiving information and taking action on behalf of the resident should the resident no longer be able.
The resident sued the PHA for discrimination against residents in senior-disabled housing. The resident claimed that the PHA's requirement that residents execute the PCS form as a condition of tenancy violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
The PHA claimed that as of July 2011, it stopped publishing or distributing the PCS form and instead uses only HUD Form 92006, which the PHA is required by law to give to all residents. It requires the resident to provide contact information for a person or organization that may be able to assist the resident with any issues that arise, or elect, by checking the appropriate box, not to provide such information. The PHA asked the court for a judgment in its favor without a trial.
Ruling: A Connecticut district court denied the PHA's request and ordered the trial to continue.
Reasoning: The FHA prohibits the making of any statement “with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on handicap or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.” According to the court, a statement is prohibited if it suggests to an ordinary reader that a particular protected group is favored or disfavored. And the court explained that a statement that's not on its face discriminatory may nonetheless constitute a violation if the context suggests an impermissible preference.
The PHA claimed that it was entitled to a favorable ruling because the statements contained in the PCS form aren't “‘clearly discriminatory,’” and any further examination into intent is unnecessary. But the court decided that based on the evidence presented, a reasonable jury could conclude that the PCS form tacitly expressed to an ordinary reader that individuals with disabilities were disfavored by the PHA.
Maziarz v. Housing Authority of the Town of Vernon, February 2012