Real Estate Law

Real Cases in Real Estate By Andrea Lee Negroni, Esq. – March 5, 2014 Update

Updates for the Week of March 5, 2014

A prison is not a residence for purposes of the Iowa Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of housing discrimination. Inmate Melissa Renda complained to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission that after she filed charges of sex discrimination in the facility, she was retaliated against in prison housing. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission said it had no authority over her complaint because prison was not a dwelling within the meaning of the civil rights act. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed.

The word “dwelling” is not defined in the civil rights act. The Iowa Supreme Court observed that a “dwelling” has a specialized legal definition appropriately interpreted by the courts. Renda claimed that other atypical residential facilities are considered dwellings for purposes of fair housing laws, including nursing homes, homeless shelters, hospices and residential schools for the emotionally disturbed. She intended to reside in the prison for more than a brief period and she considered it her residence. The court rejected this reasoning, noting that while Renda considered her cell her indefinite residence, there is a fundamental difference between a home and a detention facility. Facilities like nursing homes and residential schools, for example, are designed to be residential, but prisons are designed and intended to be penal facilities.

As an inmate, Renda had no choice about living in prison. The goal of fair housing law -- to promote freedom of choice in housing – would not be advanced by characterizing prisons as dwellings. The Iowa Civil Rights Act’s housing provisions are patterned after the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes paramount the element of free choice in housing. Renda’s incarceration, not the prison conduct she complained about, removed her ability to make housing choices. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (and with federal court decisions) that a prison is not a dwelling for housing discrimination purposes.

Renda v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, 784 N.W.2d 8 (Iowa, June 4, 2010) [enhanced version available to subscribers].

Real Cases in Real Estate is a periodic update on real estate law, with legal principles illustrated and explained by lawsuits from around the country. The topics are wide-ranging for appeal to a broad spectrum of readers including lawyers, homeowners, investors and the general public. Andrea Lee Negroni, a Washington DC attorney and legal writer with 25 years of experience in financial services and mortgage law, contributes the case summaries.

Followers of Real Cases in Real Estate will learn and be entertained by lawsuits involving nuisance, trespass, zoning violations, deed restrictions, title insurance, public utilities, mechanics liens, construction defects, adverse possession, foreclosure and eviction, divorce and marital property rights, tenants' rights, and more. Real Cases in Real Estate uncovers the unpredictable, amusing, and sometimes outrageous disputes between next-door neighbors, contractors and homeowners, condo boards and residents, real estate brokers and homebuyers, and zoning administrators and developers.

Each fully cited case summary highlights the essential law of the case and explains the principal legal theories and concepts relevant to the outcome. Plain language treatment makes Real Cases in Real Estate accessible to lawyers and laymen alike.

Whether you follow real estate law professionally or as a hobby, you'll find something new and useful in every issue of Real Cases in Real Estate.

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