Lawsuit Reinstated of Autistic Child's Parents Who Allege Fair Housing Act Violation
Real Estate Agent Accused of Showing Bias
A federal appeals court reinstated a lawsuit in June 2015 against a realtor who allegedly told a New York married couple their lease would not be renewed by a new landlord because of their 11-year-old daughter’s autism.
The couple accused the realtor of showing disability bias forbidden by the Fair Housing Act.
The ruling based on federal law applies equally nationwide. It was reported by The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net).
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said housing is a “major life activity” under Fair Housing Act rules that could be violated even if a physically-impaired victim of discrimination does not qualify as disabled under the Act.
In Rodriguez v. Village Green Realty, the daughter of Heidi and Juan Rodriguez suffered from autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy.
The court’s decision clarified housing discrimination based on disability by ruling for the first time that finding housing is a “major life activity.”
The Rodriguezes sued Village Green Realty because of its agent’s statements on whether they could continue renting a home. The property owner planned to sell the home, prompting the agent to send the Rodriguezes a letter saying the buyer would continue renting to them but only at a higher rent.
In a series of text messages, the Rodriguezes acknowledged their child needed occasional medical treatment.
In one message replying to the Rodriguezes, the real estate agent said the new owner of their home "is very concerned with [your child's] medical situation and will probably not want to rent to you. I think we need to let you know that we will not be renting to you."
The trial judge granted a summary judgment for the realtor, finding inadequate evidence the Rodriguezes' daughter was disabled. The appellate court reinstated the lawsuit.
The Rodriguezes provided adequate evidence of their daughter’s difficulties in learning and her condition’s influence on their ability to find housing, the appeals court said.
"The ability to obtain shelter is among the most basic of human needs and thus is a 'major life activity' for purposes of the FHA," Judge Christopher Droney wrote. The real estate agent’s statements show she believed the daughter’s “impairment made her an undesirable tenant, restricted in her ability to obtain housing because property owners would not wish to rent to her."
As a result, she could be “regarded as” disabled under Federal Housing Act definitions, giving the family protections against disability bias, the court said.
The case is Rodriguez v. Village Green Realty, Inc., U.S. 2nd Cir. Ct. App., No. 13-4792-cv, (June 2015).