Hartford City senior apartments enter consent decree over allegations of Fair Housing Act violations

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An apartment complex for older adults in Hartford City has reached a settlement with a former resident and the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana over allegations the facility violated the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against individuals with disabilities.

Hartford Place Apartments, which owns Hartford Place Senior Apartments, and CrownPointe Communities LLC, which manages the senior apartments, has agreed to pay $35,000 to settle the lawsuit brought by former resident Brenda Strout and the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana Inc. As part of the consent decree and final order issued by the Northern Indiana District Court in June, the defendants are not admitting any liability and continue to deny the allegations made by the plaintiffs.

“Hoosiers with disabilities know their disabilities best and what housing arrangements are most suitable for their needs,” Brady Ripperger, director of fair housing programs at the FHCCI, said in a news release. “Seniors with disabilities also have the right to reasonable accommodations to assist them to remain in their home and live in the housing of their choice.”

Jason Delk, co-founding attorney of DelkMcNally LLP in Muncie, represented the defendants. He did not respond to a request for comment by IL deadline.

The plaintiffs were represented by Tom Crishon, legal director of Indiana Disability Rights, and Chris Brancart, co-founding attorney of Brancart & Brancart in Loma Mar, California.

According to the complaint filed in October 2020, Strout moved into Hartford Place Senior Apartments in April 2019. She suffers from chronic kidney disease, asthma, COPD and uses a wheelchair to remain mobile. Her daughter also moved into the complex, living in a nearby apartment and providing support so Strout could continue to live independently.

In August, Strout and the other residents of the Hartford Place received a “mandatory relocation” form, which they were told to sign and return. The document listed the criteria for assessing whether a resident met the complex’s independent living standard and, according to the lawsuit, “threatened to evict” the residents who failed to meet the criteria.

Strout refused to sign the form. According to the complaint, she worried she would lose her place to live because she did not meet the independent living criteria. However, even if she did meet the criteria, she feared she would have to move out because the complex’s owners and managers had “exclusive discretion … to force her from her home based on her disability,” she argued.

When the apartment again distributed the forms in April 2020, Strout and her daughter decided to leave. They vacated their units in May 2020.

After investigating the matter and an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the situation, the FHCCI and Strout filed the lawsuit.

The complaint alleged the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act. In particular, the plaintiffs alleged the defendants discouraged disabled individuals from renting an apartment in the complex; asked individuals about the nature or severity of their disabilities; used leases with different provisions for disabled renters; and threatened, intimidated or interfered with individuals’ enjoyment of their home because of their disabilities.

In answering the complaint, the defendants denied the allegations. Also, they asserted several affirmative defenses including the claim that nonparties to the litigation whose identifies were unknown caused the plaintiffs’ alleged damages. The defendants also reserved the right to identify the nonparties after conducting further investigations and discovery.

The FHCCI noted that under the consent decree, the defendants must rescind any independent living polices and notify the residents of the change in policy. Also, the defendants must distribute fair-housing-related materials to all residents and attend fair housing training.

“‘Independent living’ is a term used to describe senior housing communities that do not provide medical or other support services; however, the term often leads housing providers to unlawfully require that residents live ‘independently’ or without help or aid,” Amy Nelson, executive director of the FHCCI, said in the news release. “Residents with disabilities who need help with personal care, chores, maintaining their unit, etc., should not be excluded from independent living communities and must be allowed to bring in outside resources to assist them in those daily tasks.”

The case is Fair House Center of Central Indiana, Inc., and Brenda Strout v. Hartford Place, L.P., and CrownPointe Communities, LLC, 1:20-cv-372.

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