CIVIL RIGHT ACTS DEALING WITH ELDER LAW MATTERS
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was one of the raft of civil rights acts promulgated to help make the promises of Civil Rights Era real. In its current, amended form, it prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on, among other things, disability status. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 is another enactment that speaks to the issue of senior housing, as it bars age discrimination in any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance. While there is a “housing for older person exemption” that is beneficial for seniors who need the special services found in many communities, the right to restrict housing is limited to only certain delineated situations. Indeed, the protections for senior housing are broad and robust.
HIDDEN FAIR HOUSING VIOLATIONS ISSUES IN SENIOR HOUSING
Despite the many protections, there are, nevertheless, many forms of discrimination that many people do not consider that are just as insidious and limiting as more obvious forms of housing segregation. In 2008, Lillian Hyatt filed suit in the Federal District of Northern California, seeking “injunctive, declaratory and monetary relief” under the Fair Housing Act against The Sequoias, the continuing care retirement community where she lived. The lawsuit was the result of Ms. Hyatt’s care facility’s policy of prohibiting walkers and wheelchairs in the dining area. Ms. Hyatt describes herself as “retired professor of social work and an active, vibrant and social member of her community.” Despite her multiple disabilities, age has not diminished her moxie. It is important to note that the parties settled their dispute without any admission of wrongdoing or civil liability.
NOT AN ISOLATED CASE
In 2007, Ms. Sally Herriot filed suit in the Federal Northern District of California against Channing House, her continuing care retirement community. Ms. Herriot alleged a violation of the Fair Housing Act as well as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ms. Herriot’s cases resulted in dismissal by the trial Court on summary Judgment, in favor of Channing House. The Court, however, made an pronouncement in it’s ruling, when it noted that if a Plaintiff shows that a proposed accommodation is reasonable, the Defendant must show that the accommodations would fundamentally alter the nature of its business.
In 2005, Mrs. Blanche Bell filed suit in the Federal District of South Carolina, against her continuing care retirement community in Bell v. Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community. As with Ms. Herriot, the Court allowed for the continuing care retirement community to implement reasonable limitations on personal care aides.
Even as far back as 1990, in the Federal Western District of New York, two “elderly” women who were also physically handicapped and one of whom was diagnosed with schizophrenia, filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the Fair Housing Act in the context of disabled housing, and, by extension, senior housing, in Cason v. Rochester Housing Authority, 748 F. Supp. 1002 (W.D.N.Y. 1990). The Court held that independent living requirements are not permissible under the Fair Housing Act and further outlined the broad protections included in the Fair Housing Act. Id. 748 F. Supp. at 1006 – 1007.
If you or a loved one find yourself subject to what you believe to be violations of right to fair housing, you must consult with an experienced elder law attorney.