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Updates for the Week of May 28, 2014
Did the Landlord Discriminate Against a Disabled Tenant by Refusing to Terminate His Lease Early? Colleen and David rented an apartment in Virginia for $1900 a month with a $1900 advance security deposit. About 7 months into their one year lease, David was diagnosed with lung cancer which prevented him from being able to get up the steps to his apartment. Colleen and David asked their landlord to terminate their lease early, but he refused. A letter from David’s doctor confirming his illness and physical limitations didn’t help -- the landlord demanded the full rent due under the lease. The tenants paid it, even though they moved out months before the lease end date. After conducting a final move-out inspection of the apartment, the landlord didn’t return the couple’s security deposit. Perhaps he should have, because he ended up in court, sued for not only the deposit under the landlord and tenant act, but also for discrimination under the Virginia Fair Housing Act and the Federal Fair Housing Act.
The fair housing laws of Virginia and the federal government are designed to prevent discrimination on the basis of handicap, as well as sex, family status, race, religion and other things. Where handicaps are concerned, both Virginia and federal law prohibit discriminating in the sale, rental and availability of housing, not only to the handicapped person, but also to persons associated or living with him. Colleen was the plaintiff in this case against her former landlord, although David had the handicap. The Fairfax, Virginia court allowed Colleen to pursue the lawsuit as a person “associated” with her handicapped husband.
The federal fair housing law also says that discrimination includes refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, practices, policies and services necessary to ensure the handicapped have equal opportunities to use and enjoy dwellings. So the issue in this case was whether the landlord should have made an accommodation for David, by permitting him to terminate his lease early. Concluding that the termination provision of the lease was a “term” of his housing, the judge decided that the landlord applied a generally applicable policy (e.g., no early lease termination) in a manner that could constitute unlawful discrimination. The court overruled the landlord’s demurrer, paving the way for a trial on the merits of the discrimination complaint.
Hughes v. Bransfield, No. CL-2011-13180 (Jan. 11, 2012), Circuit Court of Virginia, Fairfax County (not reported). [enhanced version available to lexis.com 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.
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