Property Management Blog

Avoiding Fair Housing Claims and why a Property Management Company is so important

Ironclad Property Management - Friday, April 22, 2022

To summarize this long post, it is a fair housing violation for landlords to actually be conscious of the source of income type when making a decision to rent a property but once it is rented, we better recognize immediately that the tenant is disabled so we can make a reasonable accommodation to let him/her break the lease with zero notice or it is a fair housing violation. 

If this intrigues you, read the rest.  Sorry in advance for the long post but it is worth the read.

A tenant of ours left the end of February because she was approved for a Section 8 voucher.  She had an active lease for many additional months.  We got the property rented for April 1, 2022 and sent her the security deposit disposition which showed she had a balance after covering the one month rent, one month to re-lease the property and an amount related to damages that occurred due to tenants neglect.

We received a letter back a few days later from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, informing us that we needed to return the entire security deposit back to the tenant.  In the letter, the lawyer indicated that she did not do any damages to the unit, that she left the oil tank with more oil in it than had been in it to start and that we should make the tenant a reasonable accommodation by not charging her for the back rent or the re-leasing fee.  The lawyer quoted a statute related to making “reasonable accommodations to ensure that tenants have equal access and enjoyment of their homes” claiming the steep stairs and smoking was the reason for her leaving. The lawyer also quoted a court case from Delaware that was not relevant to the facts at hand and provided a letter from a doctor in April informing us that the tenant is disabled.

We responded back with the picture of the oil fill, the pictures showing damage and what it looked like prior to the move in as well as the move out video.  We also argued that we had no knowledge that the tenant was disabled and we would have obviously made reasonable accommodations had we understood the situation but explained that it was a second floor apartment toured multiple times by the tenant who then applied for the apartment so reasonable accommodations in this case were not relevant.  I basically alluded to the fact that I would love to take this to small claims court and get a judge to decide on the validity of the law.

A week later the lawyer responded back stating that I was aware that she was disabled because she had disability income and that her mobility impairment is readily-apparent.  The lawyer also quoted a CT statute – General Statutes 8-116d on why we should be giving her money back.  In General Statutes 8-116d it states, “Termination of lease or rental agreement upon acceptance for admission to the housing project.  Any elderly person…may terminate the lease or rental agreement for the dwelling unit that he or she occupies at the time of such acceptance, without the penalty or liability for the remaining term of the lease or rental agreement, upon giving thirty days written notice to the landlord.”  This statute also references Section 8-113a which states, “Elderly persons means…persons who have been certified by the Social Security Board as being totally disabled under the federal Social Security Act or certified by any other federal board or agency as being totally disabled.”  In that letter, the lawyer relented and said that the tenant would be responsible for March rent (did not give any notice) but reserved the right to challenge the retention of the security department arising from alleged repairs and fees.

I responded back by attacking this letter in multiple ways:

1:  There are different levels of disability and I needed her to provide proof that she is truly “totally disabled” as defined in the statute.

2:  The general statute calls for allowing the tenant to leave, “without the penalty or liability for the remaining term of the lease” and we had re-rented it and not made her responsible for additional liability but did make her responsible for the cost to re-rent the property which is clearly called out in the lease and is true payments that have to be made by the owner due to the tenant violating the lease agreement.  I questioned what the context of the word “penalty” means in this context.

3: I also explained that knowingly being aware that income is disability income and that a person is disabled would put me into the real challenge of being a fair housing violation as all I look at is the income amount and that it is a legitimate source and not where the source is coming from.

The lawyer responded right away very angrily stating, “You are missing the relevant law, which is the state and federal fair housing acts which require reasonable accommodations to be made for people who meet the definition of disability as contained in those statutes…If, however, you do not remove the additional fee, we will file a complaint with CHRO alleging a violation of the fair housing act.  If you send it to collections, we will include a retaliation claim.”

I quickly responded that I am not a lawyer, that I felt like she had misconstrued the law (first never mentioned the 30 days, now mentions the 30 days, never mentions the fully disabled part of the law) was bullying me and called to question what proof she had that I was discriminating against her client.  I stated that it is actually discrimination if we give preferential treatment to one tenant over another all because a lawyer sends me a letter.  She also stated that the proof that she is “totally disabled” is that all of her income comes from a disability check.  She finally gave me good legal advice, “If you disagree, I strongly suggest that you get legal advice from an attorney well-versed in fair housing law before communicating with me any further.”

The moral of the story is the blue states suck.