‘Hostile housing environment’ claim survives summary judgment in lawsuit against HOA

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A federal court is allowing a lawsuit alleging an Indianapolis homeowners association and its property management company knew of race-based harassment in the Twin Creeks subdivision and failed to take legal action to stop the problematic neighbor from using offensive language and making threats.

The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana and a former resident of the Twin Creeks subdivision filed the lawsuit in April 2020, claiming the Twin Creeks Homeowners Association and Kirkpatrick Management Co., Inc. along with neighbor Vicky New violated the Fair Housing Act. They detail years of bullying and verbally berating the neighbors as well as using racist names and threatening bodily harm.

In January, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana found the plaintiffs had sufficient factual allegations to pursue their claims of violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act, the Indiana Fair Housing Act and the Federal Civil Rights Act.

After the defendants got some of the claims dismissed, they filed a motion for summary judgement on the remaining Fair Housing Act claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. and the Civil Rights Act claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1982.

In a ruling issued Dec. 17 in Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Inc., and Donata Banks, v. Vicki New, Kirkpatrick Management Company, Inc., and Twin Creeks Homeowners Association, Inc., 1:20-cv-01176, the Southern Indiana District Court granted summary judgment in part but allowed one of the Fair Housing Claims and the Section 1982 claim to proceed.

The federal court granted summary judgment on 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604 (a) which prohibits the denial of housing based on race, color, religion, sex, familiar statue or national origin and (c ) which bans making a public notice that the house is available only to certain individuals based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familiar status or national origin.

However, the court denied summary judgment on 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b) which prohibits discriminating against any person in the sale or rental of house on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familiar status or national origin.

“The evidence designated by the parties could permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that a hostile housing environment based upon race and national origin existed at Twin Creeks,” Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt wrote. “For years, New openly and brazenly harassed and verbally assaulted her neighbors based upon race and national origin. The designated evidence also could permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that New’s conduct, intimidation, and threats interfered with the Banks’ enjoyment of their housing rights.”

Specifically, the court noted the plaintiffs pointed to evidence that the defendants were aware of News’s race-based harassment as far back as September 2016 and that the CCRs gave the defendants authority to pursue legal action against New.

The defendants countered the letters they wrote to New were a reasonable response to her racial harassment and there is no evidence they intentionally discriminated against the neighbors complaining the New’s behavior.

In letting the 3604(b) claim to proceed, the court found these factual disputes should be decided by a factfinder.

Likewise, the court concluded that summary judgment was not warranted on the Section 1982 claim.

“Banks’ rights to use and enjoy her property were impaired, and there is evidence that supports an inference—which should be decided by the factfinder—that the Defendants had discriminatory intent because they pursued legal action against the News for failure to pay HOA assessments but did not pursue legal action against New for her racial harassment,” Walton Pratt wrote.

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