Miller Canfield helps Fair Housing Center of SW Michigan settle second victory

The Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan has agreed to settle a fair housing lawsuit with an apartment complex in Kalamazoo and the settlement provides for three years of court enforced injunctive relief along with monetary damages of $47,500. Last month the Center announced a $38,000 settlement in a similar case involving a Berrien County housing provider.

In 2008, the Fair Housing Center, a private non-profit dedicated to ending housing discrimination, received a call from a couple who alleged that they had been evicted from their apartment  because the owner and apartment manager preferred to rent to senior citizens of age 55 and over. The couple also alleged that the apartment manager had refused to move them into a two-bedroom apartment for fear that the couple’s granddaughter would come to live with them.

As a result, the Fair Housing Center conducted an investigation into the rental practices of the apartment complex and based on that investigation, in 2009 the Fair Housing Center, along with the couple, Kenneth and Teresa Miller, filed a lawsuit under federal and state fair housing laws against the owner alleging that the owner and apartment manager enforced an illegal occupancy policy that prevented families with two children from living in a two bedroom apartment. The lawsuit also alleged that the owner and manager made statements in their advertising expressing a preference for senior aged tenants. The Fair Housing Center and the individuals were represented by Jay Yelton, Kurt McCamman, Brad Sysol and Kendra Huff from the law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC.

After three years of litigation, the parties entered a settlement agreement that requires the apartment owner and apartment manager to refrain from applying its former “one person or couple per bedroom” occupancy policy and to refrain from using the terms “senior,” “seniors,” “adult community” or “mature community” in any of their advertising. Other terms of the settlement include annual fair housing training for all employees, on-site monitoring by the Fair Housing Center, implementation of a nondiscrimination policy and effective communication of that policy to all current and potential tenants. Under the settlement agreement the federal court retains jurisdiction over any allegations of fair housing violations for a period of three years.  The owner and apartment manager also agreed to pay monetary damages of $47,500, and may be responsible for attorney fees which could be awarded pursuant to a pending motion before the federal court.

The federal Fair Housing Act gives everyone the right to live where they choose.  Familial status, along with race, color, national origin, disability, sex and religion are federally protected classes. The State of Michigan also protects against discrimination based on age and marital status. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is also prohibited in HUD-funded properties as well as in several local jurisdictions in Southwest Michigan, including the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Township, the City of Saugatuck and the City of the Village of Douglas.

The Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan and its investigative work that uncovered the discrimination and led to this settlement was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. If you feel that you have been a victim of housing discrimination based on one or more of the protected classes listed above, please contact the Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan at 1-800-637-0733 or the US Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-424-8590.

The Center also provides educational workshops for housing providers and others who would like to learn about their fair housing rights and responsibilities.