By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — A U.S. military veteran removed a wheelchair ramp from the house he was buying to avoid litigation threatened by a homeowners association, a fair housing advocate reports.
The double amputee’s family installed the ramp two days before closing on the purchase and the association threatened to sue the closing attorney if the sale was finalized, according to Tennessee Fair Housing Council Executive Director Kathy Trawick.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is investigating the 71-year-old African American’s complaint, Trawick said. The vet’s mortgage is with the Veteran’s Administration, so the ramp was required. “The VA passed it. The people took it down really fast and closed on the loan.”
There’s no public record on this case, she said. “It’s in a nice [Davidson County] neighborhood, obviously, because it’s got a neighborhood association…
“Associations think they don’t have to comply with the law, but they do,” Trawick said.
She’s the scheduled speaker at the Haynes-Trinity Neighborhood Coalition’s 6 p.m. Jan. 3 meeting at Riverside Seventh Day Adventist Church, 800 Youngs Lane, coalition spokeswoman Winnie Forrester said.
Trawick “is just the beginning” of programs this year, Forrester said. “Their main focus is to bring education on housing issues to the community.”
Trawick is to say how her group can help. “Affordable housing is not the same thing as fair housing, but fair housing has some affordable housing issues… Gentrification may have fair housing implications. I’ll tell them … how we help the average person, whether they own their home or rent.”
As for the 71-year-old veteran, the Fair Housing Council wants him to be made whole, Trawick said. That may include ramp replacement, money, court costs, legal fees and fair housing training for HOA members and/or its managers.
“We’ve got several settlement proposals out there,” she said. “If the current settlement offer does not work, we can withdraw the administrative case, and go straight to court.”
Trawick, 59, has worked on fair housing issues for 15 years. She’s worked for a housing authority and for Legal Services. She’s a University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphries School of Law graduate.
“We represent people who believe they’ve been discriminated against or treated differently” because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability, she said of the seven constitutionally protected classes.
“We just want people to follow the law,” she said. For example, a handicapped apartment complex resident may need parking close to their door. “We can get them the parking place. No fair housing case is too small… We can usually get things worked out by … explaining the law…
“Most of the clients are people with disabilities,” she said.
That includes a family that was living in Franklin. The couple had two children with Down syndrome. They wanted an addition for a therapy room, but an HOA architectural review panel wouldn’t approve it. The HOA settled for $156,000.
“Unfortunately this is still going on,” said Trawick. For more, see tntribune.com.
“Normally we help about 150 to 175 clients a year,” Trawick said. “We have about 55 now.”
Funding is problematic for the 501(c)(3) non-profit group, she said. The housing council’s budget is “slightly over $300,000.” During the Trump Administration, there’s been a gap in HUD funding. “It hasn’t been cut, but … there’s a span of time between one funding period and another… Last year there was a six-week gap.”
The council’s current grant started Jan. 16, 2018 — it ends Jan. 15 — but council leaders won’t know until March if HUD will accept the coun cil’s grant proposal.
“It might be as late as June before they actually fund it,” Trawick said. It’s not because of the government’s partial shutdown. There was no funding gap during the Obama and Bush Administrations.
“There are some other grants that we’ll be applying for, and we have a grant for $26,000 from the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. It starts Jan. 1.”
Home Owners Group Settled, Paid $156,000
By Tracey McCartney
FRANKLIN, TN — A home owners association in August 2013 settled a federal lawsuit filed against it in early 2012 for $156,000. It’s an example of what the Tennessee Fair Housing Council has done for its clients.
The plaintiffs, Charles and Melanie Hollis and their youngest two children, both of whom have Down Syndrome, filed the suit on Feb. 2, 2012. The Hollis family was represented by the Tennessee Fair Housing Council and Larry Crain of Crain, Schuette & Associates, of Brentwood.
The suit alleged that throughout most of 2011, the Chestnut Bend Home Owners Association’s Architectural Review Committee (CBHOA-ARC) refused to allow the Hollis family to create a sun room to be used as a therapeutic area for the young children to receive physical therapy and to play in a safe environment, either because they disagreed with the family’s design choices or deemed the applications incomplete. Because of the manifestations of the children’s disabilities, the Hollises needed the sun room to house therapy equipment for stimulation and development.
In the fall of 2011, the Hollises approached the Tennessee Fair Housing Council for assistance. TFHC contacted the ARC through a representative of CBHOA’s management company, Westwood Property Management LLC, and asked for a list of acceptable construction materials for the sunroom project to facilitate submission of a new proposal and educating the ARC and CBHOA on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The Act makes it illegal to refuse to permit reasonable modifications of existing premises if such modifications may be necessary to afford a person with disabilities full enjoyment of the home.
In a final request for approval, the Hollises asked to construct a sun room that would match that of a neighbor, which had a metal roof, and the ARC had previously indicated in writing that a metal roof would be acceptable. However, after the TFHC submitted the proposal in early December 2011 for a sun room with a metal roof, the ARC, via its attorney, responded that “(t)he subdivision standard roof is shingle and not metal. Although metal roofs are in vogue right now the ARC prefers not to approve a metal roof.”
The letter also conditioned the sunroom approval process on the Hollises providing a written assurance that “the exercise equipment would be placed and maintained in the sunroom and not moved outside without further application to the ARC.” That assurance was not required of others requesting to modify their homes.
The Hollises and McCartney considered that letter a refusal to allow the reasonable modification and gave the ARC until Dec. 22, 2011, to reverse itself. Neither the ARC nor the CBHOA responded. The Hollises, frustrated by the refusal and by their treatment at the hands of the Architectural Review Committee, sold their home at a loss and moved out of the neighborhood. They filed the lawsuit shortly thereafter.
The case has resulted in an important clarification of the Fair Housing Act in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The trial court had found that the CBHOA may have failed to permit the reasonable modification but held that the plaintiffs had failed to produce any evidence that the CBHOA’s actions were motivated by discriminatory intent against people with disabilities. The trial judge also held that Charles and Melanie Hollis did not have the right to sue on their own (as opposed to filing as the parents of the children) because they did not have any damages of their own. As a result, the trial judge dismissed the Hollises’ case.
The Hollises, with the representation of Stephen Dane and Ryan Downer of Relman, Dane and Colfax, a leading Washington, D.C.-based civil rights firm, appealed the case to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. It held that it’s not necessary to show discriminatory intent in a reasonable modification case. The 6th Circuit also held that the Hollises had alleged they had been economically harmed by the CBHOA and therefore had standing to sue. The 6th Circuit covers Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.
Westwood, a Franklin-based company that provides management services to CBHOA and other home owner associations, was originally named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs agreed to dismiss Westwood in August of 2013 in exchange for its commitment to provide annual fair housing training for its employees, to engage the services of an experienced fair housing lawyer and to develop a fair housing policy. The plaintiffs insisted on these assurances after learning that the company apparently had not been requiring any of its managers to receive training on the Fair Housing Act, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, a landmark part of federal legislation.
In addition to the payment to the Hollises, the settlement agreement with CBHOA requires it to work only with management companies that have a fair housing policy and whose employees receive annual fair housing training. The CBHOA did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
The Tennessee Fair Housing Council’s involvement in this litigation was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program.
Tracey McCartney is a former executive director of the Tennessee Fair Housing Council. McCartney and Meagan Dolleris, the Council’s staff attorney, also pursued the litigation with Larry Crain.