Co-op discriminated against disabled renter, suit claims

A daughter and care provider for her quadriplegic mother who was denied housing at a south side Indianapolis housing cooperative has sued in federal court, claiming the apartment management violated state and federal housing and anti-discrimination laws.

Sharna McFarland claims she was sent a letter urging her to attend a mandatory new member orientation last August after she applied to rent an apartment at Grandville Cooperative. After she met with board members at the orientation session and informed them of her mother’s disability, she received a rejection letter stating “Grandview Cooperative is not handicap accessible and it will be a liability to offer you a unit that is not accommodating to everyone in the household.”

The lawsuit filed Thursday notes Grandville is a 156-unit complex that was built and developed as affordable housing for lower-income tenants, and that its property management company, Kirkpatrick Management Co. Inc., is among the largest in Indianapolis and has a portfolio of more than 10,000 apartments.

The suit was filed on behalf of the family by the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana Inc. and Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services. It seeks actual and punitive damages, declaratory judgments that defendants violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the Indiana Fair Housing Act, and legal fees.

“Disability has been a federally protected class since 1988, but we still see examples of housing discrimination daily,” said Amy Nelson, executive director of the FHCCI. “Persons with disabilities must have housing options available to them similar to those without disabilities, including access to housing of their choice.”

The center said in a statement it investigated the family’s claims and found evidence of discrimination due to disability in violation of fair housing laws.

“This case outlines Kirkpatrick’s blatant disregard for the law and it is a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act. An established management company of this size should be knowledgeable and in compliance with the law,” IPAS Executive Director Dawn Adams said in a statement. “All people with disabilities have the right to choose where they want to live and Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services will continue to protect this right.”

The suit was filed before Judge Sarah Evans Barker in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. The case is Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana Inc., Virginia Morton and Sharna McFarland v. Grandville Cooperative Inc., Karen Mitchell and Kirkpatrick Management Inc., 1:16-CV-300.

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