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Down Syndrome Adult Wins in 11th Cir. Against Apt. Complex

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 25, 2016 6:00 AM

In a case that is illustrative to those who lease-out residential property, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the lower trial court's dismissal of a discrimination suit in the plaintiff's favor because it found that the apartment complex had violated the Fair Housing Act.

Of particular note is the court's declaration that a defendant need not make dwelling impossible to obtain in order for that dwelling to be "unavailable" for purposes of the Act.

Karl Hunt's Disability

Karl Hunt lived in the Reflections apartment complex with his mother. He was born with Down Syndrome which caused him to act out inappropriately at times and behave "like a child that is seven years old." Reflections is owned by Aimco, the defendant.

On at least one occasion, the apartment complex's manager encountered Karl during which time he apparently blurted out a statement about trapping her and other residents inside the complex and burning it down. His mother maintained that this statement was merely a description of a cartoon that Karl frequently watched and that he meant none of it.

Fallout

The day after the incident, the local county sheriff appeared at the Hunt apartment and asked to talk to Karl about the "threats" which Karl voiced. The officer warned Karl that if he went in or around the community clubhouse or office, he would be arrested. Karl's mother called the apartment manager completely distraught and asked for reasonable accommodations, but Ms. Hunt's explanations for her son's actions fell on deaf ears.

In fact, Aimco made the decision that day not to renew the Hunt's lease and notified Ms. Hunt by posting a Notice of Nonrenewal with Opportunity Cure on her door, listing off various violations of the lease terms by Karl. Soon afterward, Aimco posted a Notice of Non-renewal that prompted Ms. Hunt to scramble frantically in a search for a new place to live. She was to leave by November 12. Ms. Hunt packed and sold several items of furniture, and also paid for several background checks as was required by assistant movers.

In the interim, she also filed a complaint against Aimco. Miraculously, a new management company took over Reflections. The new company conducted its own internal investigation and determined that Karl could stay along with his mother.

Failure to State a Claim

After addressing preliminary mootness issues, the court then addressed Aimco's defense that the Hunt's failed to state a claim. But it found that the facts supported various violations under the FHA.

The Court agreed with the Hunts that Aimco made the Hunt apartment "unavailable," and that the district court had erred in dismissing the Hunts' claim. Everything in the facts clearly met a Twombly analysis. The totality of the circumstances pointed clearly to a causal relationship to the misunderstanding that took place between the property manager and the non-renewal of the Hunt's lease.

Aimco, for example, refused to hear Ms. Hunt out -- and this was enough to satisfy the "adverse housing action" under FHA. Further, the old management immediately told the Hunt's of their pending non-renewal and also made the environment less welcoming by calling the cops on Karl. All of these facts supported that the Hunts had made a sufficient pleading under FHA.

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