HUD charges Mississippi Housing Authority, property managers, and apartment complex with violating Fair Housing Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 08, 2009 – (RealEstateRama) — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it has charged the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority, No. VIII (MRHA), of Gulfport, Sun Belt Management Company, Inc., and Oakridge Park Apartments, Ltd., in Biloxi, with denying a disabled resident an available first-floor apartment, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations when such accommodation may be necessary to afford a person with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

Mary Waltman has physical disabilities that severely limit her ability to walk and climb stairs. When Ms. Waltman applied for rental assistance to participate in MRHA’s Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8), she documented her need for a first-floor apartment. Ms. Waltman agreed to accept a second-floor apartment at Oakridge Park with the understanding that she would be transferred to a first-floor apartment when one became available.

During her tenancy, Ms. Waltman fell several times, trying to negotiate the stairs to her unit. When a first-floor apartment became available, Ms. Waltman asked to be moved to the first-floor apartment. The respondents denied Ms. Waltman’s request to move, stating she had to remain in her original unit for a full year before she could transfer. Instead, Oakridge Park Apartment leased the first-floor unit to a new tenant who did not have a disability. The denial prompted Ms. Waltman to move out of the apartment and to file a complaint with HUD.

Kim Kendrick, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said, “One in five Americans has a disability. It’s important that property managers, landlords, and other housing providers, including housing authorities, understand that the Fair Housing Act requires them to make reasonable accommodations that afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. No person with a disability should have to endure what Ms. Waltman was subjected to.”

The HUD charge will be heard by an administrative law judge if no party elects to have the case heard in federal court. The ALJ may award damages to the complainant for actual damages as a result of the alleged discrimination, including damages for emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of civil rights. The judge may also order injunctive and other equitable relief to prevent further discrimination. Additionally, the judge may impose a maximum civil penalty of $16,000 for each violation for a first offense and order payment of attorneys’ fees. Penalties greater than $16,000 may be assessed if a respondent has a history of housing discrimination.

HUD and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate approximately 10,000 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1 (800) 669-9777 (voice), (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Additional information is available at www.hud.gov/fairhousing. Stay on top of the most up-to-date news regarding the Fair Housing Act by signing up for the FHEO RSS Feed at www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/index.cfm.

HUD is the nation’s housing agency committed to increasing homeownership, particularly among minorities; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development and enforces the nation’s fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.

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