LaPorte County apartment accused of violating fair housing acts

The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana has filed a complaint in federal court against a Michigan City apartment complex, claiming the “discriminatory practices” of the residential provider deprived a Hoosier family of a place to live.

According to the lawsuit, LaPorte Lake Properties and its property, Coolspring Estates Apartments, would not rent a unit to Diamond Smith because she wanted to live in a two-bedroom apartment with her husband and their three minor children. The FHCCI alleges the apartment discriminated against families with children by enforcing an overly restrictive occupancy standard.

“Those with children face added barriers in locating housing that will rent to them with their child or children,” Amy Nelson, executive director of the FHCCI, said in a statement. She cited a 2019 report by the National Fair Housing Alliance which found 11.15% of the complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development involved discrimination against families with children.

A person who returned a message left at Coolspring Estates said the property owner had no comment.

The complaint asserts the apartment complex discriminated based on familial status, which is a violation of both the federal and Indiana fair housing acts as well as Michigan City ordinances. Smith and FHCCI are seeking general compensatory and punitive damages along with an injunction to stop what the lawsuit describes as the apartment’s “illegal conduct. “

Judith Fox of the University of Notre Dame Clinical Law Center and Stephen Dane of Dane Law LLC are representing the plaintiffs in Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Inc.; and Diamond Smith v. LaPorte Lake Properties, LLC, d.b.a. Coolspring Estates Apartments, 3:21-cv-00225. The complaint was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.

Smith visited Coolspring Estates Apartments in January 2020 to rent a two-bedroom apartment, according to the complaint. However, when she explained she would be living there with her family, the property manager said the law did not allow any more than two people to live in a two-bedroom unit.

After the property manager refused to give her a tour of the model unit or discuss her family’s qualifications, Smith contacted FHCCI.

In November 2020, a protected-class tester with the FHCCI telephoned Coolspring Estates and spoke with a leasing agent. When the tester she said would be living in the apartment with her husband and three children ages 6, 3 and 2, the manager told her “a state guideline” allows only “two heartbeats per bedroom.”

“As a result of the Defendant’s discriminatory practices, Ms. Smith’s family was forced to move to the south side of Chicago in order to find affordable housing that could accommodate her family,” the complaint states. “Ms. Smith states that the location that her family is currently living in is more dangerous than where she could have lived in Coolspring Estates in Michigan City, and that this has caused her to suffer substantial emotional distress.

“Ms. Smith further states that the housing that her family found in Chicago is more expensive than the housing opportunity declined to her in Michigan City, which has placed additional, unnecessary strain on her family finances.”

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