Agencies: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Delaware Division of Human Relations
Complainant: The Arc Delaware
Respondent: Sugar Maple Farms Property Owners’ Association, Inc.
Counsel: Relman Dane & Colfax, The Arc, Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.
Overview: The Arc Delaware filed a complaint in 2015 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Delaware Division of Human Relations (DHR) seeking a declaration that Sugar Maple Farms Property Owners’ Association (SMFPOA) violated the Fair Housing Act when it refused to approve The Arc of Delaware’s acquisition of property meant to house four individuals with I/DD in a single family home integrated within the community. The complaint sought damages to compensate for the loss of housing opportunities and for violations of the federal and Delaware Fair Housing Acts due to disability discrimination.
In 2014, The Arc Delaware’s executive director had submitted a bid on behalf of the organization for a lot owned by SMFPOA. The Arc Delaware intended to build a single family house in a residential subdivision with 65 other lots. His offer was accepted by the seller contingent on SMFPOA’s approval of the sale. However, once SMFPOA learned that residents with I/DD would be living there, it told the executive director that such use was barred by its covenants and also expressed concerns about the amount of parking that would be required by the residents’ support staff.
The executive director tried to explain that The Arc of Delaware’s use was protected by the Fair Housing Act and offered to accommodate the extra parking needs while maintaining a uniform appearance within the community. He also offered to give SMFPOA members a tour of a similar home in the area in order to allay any concerns about daily operations. Shortly thereafter, The Arc Delaware received a letter from SMFPOA reiterating its position that the sale was not approved because it would violate SMFPOA’s covenants and suggesting that allowing people with I/DD into the community would reduce property values and disturb the “quiet enjoyment” of neighbors. The loss of the property and subsequent delay in state funding deprived The Arc Delaware and its clients of at least four community-based housing opportunities.
The complaint filed with HUD noted that the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) makes it unlawful to “make unavailable or deny” a dwelling because of disability as well as to refuse to make “reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” Federal courts have consistently held that community supported housing for unrelated individuals with I/DD does not constitute a “business” and does not violate “single family” restrictions, and Delaware law expressly recognizes such housing as “single family” properties for zoning purposes. Further, the courts recognize that most discriminatory remarks are made in coded language, such as the need to “maintain property value.”
Once the complaint had been filed, DHR performed an investigation and issued a finding of discrimination in 2016. S
Status: In 2016, following the finding of discrimination, the parties agreed to settle the case and entered into a Conciliation Agreement with DHR, HUD, and The Arc of Delaware. Among other things, the Conciliation Agreement requires SMFPOA to: 1) Apply the same terms and conditions of rental to anyone occupying its properties without regard to disability or any other protected class; 2) Provide written compliance reports to DHR and/or HUD when requested; 3) Allow HUD and DHR to inspect the premises at any time within one year of the agreement; 4) Notify its members and residents in writing of rules, policies, and practices relating to its non-discrimination policy and to prominently display the Equal Housing Opportunity logo within any relevant advertisements it distributes; 5) Ensure that all of its current board members receive comprehensive training on the Fair Housing Act within 90 days of signing the agreement and that all future board members receive such training within 30 days of their election; 6) Pay The Arc Delaware $55,000 in damages, including attorneys’ fees and costs.
Press Release: “The Arc of Delaware Reaches Fair Housing Settlement“