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2013 Newsletter

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Case Updates

Cases Filed

Discrimination against Kids

A new fair housing case heads to Federal Court

Cicily Pippens contacted the Fair Housing Center to report that the agent at a West Eighth Street property, in the City of Monroe, took a rental application out of her hands after the agent learned that Ms. Pippens has two children.

The FHC investigated the claim of familial status discrimination by testing. Testers were sent to the location at various times during the period of a month. FHC testing supports her claim.

FHC staff met with Ms. Pippens shortly after the investigation was completed. Ms. Pippens chose to go to litigation with Steve Tomkowiak, a Fair Housing Center Cooperating Attorney. On March 5, 2013, Mr. Tomkowiak filed Pippens v Trkula in U. S. Federal District Court. The case is assigned to Judge Victoria A. Roberts.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Trkula told Ms. Pippens that “they really do not want children living here.” In addition, FHC testers were told “you can’t have kids,” “it is an adult unit,” and that a previous tenant “found a girlfriend with kids” and that she, Ms. Trkula, “got rid of them.”

Ms. Pippens discovered the FHC through a classified advertisement she found in the Monroe Evening News. The FHC places a daily ad in six local newspapers across our six-county service area.

This is our fifth familial status case filed since 2010. Recognizing the need for public education on the issue of discrimination against families with children, we are conducting outreach concerning this issue. We have placed an ad (see inset) in the April edition of the Ann Arbor Family Paper and have plans for more. We hope the ad alerts families to call us if they hear something that sounds suspicious.

Barnett v Alawi, Ann Arbor

Professor Denied Apartment Due to Kids

Dr. Tracey Barnett sought a furnished two-bedroom summer rental for herself and her two daughters while she attended an eight-week course at the University of Michigan. After evaluating price, location, and amenities, Dr. Barnett thought she had found the perfect sublet through Tree City Properties. The apartment was within walking distance to her seminar on campus and she had pre-arranged local childcare for her daughters.

After submitting an application, Dr. Barnett attempted, on multiple occasions, to contact Ms. Alawi. Dr. Barnett filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Center after Ms. Alawi eventually responded with the following email: “I’m sorry for taking so long [to get back with you], but I had to check with the city to see if it is permissible to have three occupants in this apartment. Unfortunately, the bedrooms are not of sufficient size to allow more than two occupants.”

Because Ms. Alawi initially agreed to the rental, Dr. Barnett gave up another sublet possibility. When Ms. Alawi refused her only three days before the family was to come to Ann Arbor, Dr. Barnett and her five- and eight-year-old daughters were forced to spend their summer living with family in the Detroit area, a long commute to the University of Michigan.

After receiving the complaint from Dr. Barnett, FHC staff went to the Ann Arbor Department of Community and Building Services to inquire about the occupancy standards for the apartment in question on Greenwood Avenue. A representative of the City stated that the two-bedroom unit could accommodate three people.

The Fair Housing Center staff met with Dr. Barnett and informed her of her rights under the Fair Housing Act. FHC Cooperating Attorney Jonathan Weber filed the case in Federal Court on December 19, 2012. The case was assigned to Judge Gerald E. Rosen.

Cases Settled

Hargraves v Spiridakos, Okemos

Father of Four Refused Rental

Matthew Hargraves accepted $10,500 to settle his familial status lawsuit in late 2012. Mr. Hargraves contacted the FHC after a property owner in Okemos refused to rent him a fourbedroom house because he has four small children. FHC testing supported his claim of discrimination based on familial status. FHC Cooperating Attorney Jonathan Weber filed on behalf of Mr. Hargraves. The case was assigned to Judge Robert Holmes Bell. This is the first FHC-aided settlement to come from Ingham County. The case was filed in U.S. Federal District Court on January 26, 2012.

Court: Federal
Settlement: $10,500

Ball v Wenger, Northfield Township

Service Animals Do Not Do Taxes

Peg Ball has a disability, uses a wheelchair, and makes use of a trained service dog called Deniro. She contacted the FHC to report a property owner who said he would, under no circumstances, take a tenant with a dog. The FHC advised Ms. Ball to write a letter to the owner explaining that Deniro was a service animal and not a pet, which she did. The FHC also conducted an investigation, and our testing supported the claim of disability discrimination by confirming the “no service animal” policy.

FHC Cooperating Attorney Jonathan Weber filed the case in U.S. Federal District Court on behalf of Ms. Ball on March 16, 2012. The case was assigned to Judge George Carem Steeh. The property owner called the FHC after the suit was filed. He alleged that he didn’t understand what a service animal could do for a person using a wheelchair. “Does he do her taxes?” he asked. Ms. Ball’s case was settled in early March, 2013.

Court: Federal
Settlement: $5,250

Justice For People With Disabilities

Resolved Reasonable Accommodations

Working Power Door System for Couple

Reasonable Modification, Ann Arbor

A couple, who each use a wheelchair, contacted the FHC to report difficulty getting into and out of their building because of malfunctioning automatic doors, key pads, and remote controls. They also believed they were being charged illegally for wear and tear of the common areas of the property. A complaint was eventually filed with HUD. FHC staff worked with the complainants, condominium association, and their lawyer to resolve the issues.

Property Office Made Accessible

Reasonable Accommodation, Ypsilanti Township

A woman who uses a wheelchair contacted the FHC to report accessibility problems with her apartment complex: the entrance to the front door had a dozen steps and no ramp, the rental office required one step down to enter, and the back entrance area was unlit with a steep ramp and a heavy door. FHC staff wrote a letter to the property and the office has been made accessible. We are still working to resolve the remaining issues.

Single Woman Can Remain in Two-Bedroom

Reasonable Accommodation, Ann Arbor

In this case, a woman with a mental/emotional disability was told she had to be downsized to a one-bedroom unit per HUD rules. The manager said the next available unit was next door to a tenant who had previously worked with the apartment management to try to evict the complainant. The complainant won the eviction case but knew that living so close to the other tenant would exacerbate the symptoms of her disability. FHC staff asked for a reasonable accommodation and the lawyer for the property agreed to allow the complainant to remain in her current unit until another one-bedroom unit was available.

“Pet Rent” and “Pet Agreements” Not Required for Support Animals

Two Reasonable Accommodations, Lansing

FHC staff helped a woman with a support animal change her management company’s requirement that she sign a “pet agreement” in order to keep her support animal. Later in the year, FHC staff helped another woman at the same property with a support animal keep the animal without paying additional “pet rent.”

“No Pets” Policies Overturned

Three Reasonable Accommodations, Ann Arbor

FHC staff assisted three people who required emotional support animals due to their disabilities. Each landlord cited “No Pets” policies as a reason for refusing to accept – or threatening to evict – the tenant. Letters from the Fair Housing Center convinced the landlords to allow the animals as reasonable accommodations. The FHC also clarified that pet rent could not be charged in these circumstances.

Changes in Rent Due Dates

Four Reasonable Accommodations, Ypsilanti and Fowlerville

The Fair Housing Center assisted four people (three in Ypsilanti and one in Fowlerville) with getting their late fees dropped, eviction proceedings stopped, and fines previously assessed returned. Each complainant received their Social Security Disability checks at a date in the month that was past their rent due date. The checks were their only sources of income. As reasonable accommodations of their disabilities, the FHC asked that no late fees be charged if their rent checks were received two days after their Social Security Disability checks arrived, that landlords refrain from mid-month eviction proceedings in the future, and that any past fees be refunded. The accommodations were granted on all accounts and a total of over $1000 in late fees were returned.

Occupancy Standards Clarified

Reasonable Accommodation, Location Undisclosed

An incoming graduate student intended to move into a new unit near campus before the fall semester began. The student has a disability and requires care 24 hours a day. When she looked at the furnished unit she asked the management company to provide an additional twin bed in her bedroom so her various caregivers could sleep or rest during their overnight shifts. Despite the fact that the caregivers were her employees and would not being living in the unit, the company said that the city would not allow an additional person to occupy the bedroom. A city official confirmed this policy.

FHC staff contacted the City Attorney asking for an explanation of this occupancy policy. The City Attorney’s office quickly issued an email response to us correcting the information that had been communicated by city officials to the landlord and tenant. The complainant took the email to her landlord who agreed to make the accommodation and she was able to sign the lease and move in before the semester began.

Apartment Temperature Adjusted

Reasonable Accommodation, Ypsilanti Township

A woman with a disability, whose symptoms are made worse in cold temperatures, signed a lease for an apartment because heat was included in the rental price. She did not realize that the thermostat was pre-set to go no higher than 73 degrees. The apartment also had drafty windows and doors. After FHC staff requested a reasonable accommodation for the tenant, including a letter from her doctor, the owner raised the temperature limit to 78 degrees, installed weather stripping on the door, and covered the windows in plastic.

Lease Broken, No Fee

Reasonable Accommodation, Ann Arbor

A woman with a mental/emotional disability needed to break her lease because a traumatic series of events on the property aggravated the symptoms of her disability. FHC wrote a letter of reasonable accommodation asking that the tenant be let out of her lease without penalty. The accommodation was granted.

Lease Extended

Reasonable Accommodation, Ann Arbor

The Fair Housing Center received a complaint from Michael H., who has quadriplegia, stating that he was going to be forced to leave his apartment. Michael had purchased a home that a group of dedicated volunteers were retrofitting for his use. He had arranged a nine month lease with his current management company with an option, at the end of the nine months, to stay on with a month-to-month lease until the repairs to his new home were completed.

However, by the time he needed the month-to-month lease extension there was a new, less flexible management company in place. They refused his request for a lease extension stating that they did not allow month-to-month leases for any tenant, for any reason, at their property.

FHC staff helped the complainant write a letter asking, as a reasonable accommodation of his disability, for his lease to go month-to-month until his new home was fully accessible. The management agreed and the accommodation was made. Michael was able to continue living in his apartment until moving directly into his new home.

Join the Fair Housing Center

Help Advance Housing Justice

We greatly appreciate your support of the FHC and our mission to end discrimination in housing and public accommodations and to promote accessible, integrated communities. With your help, we can continue to advocate for fair housing.

As a member of the Fair Housing Center, you will receive our newsletters, reports, and other updates, along with notices and invitations to FHC events.

If you would like to become a member of the FHC, please visit our membership page at www.fhcmichigan.org/get-involved/join-the-fhc. Thank you!

The FHC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax exempt organization.

“For as long as there is residential segregation, there will be de facto segregation in every area of life. So the challenge is here to develop an action program.


FHC News

FHC Director Presented with the Marvin Thomas Service Award

FHC Director Pamela Kisch was honored at the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s 15th annual Fair Housing Leadership Awards Reception. Pam was presented with the Marvin Thomas Service Award. Marv was the Coordinator of Investigations and Testing for FHCMD for over two decades. From 1991-1994, Pam assisted Marv with the investigation of many cases. During this time, over 80 cases were referred to FHCMD Cooperating Attorneys for litigation. Congratulations, Pam!

Testers Needed – Paid Work

The FHC is looking for testers in order to fully investigate the 150+ claims of housing discrimination we receive each year. Testers can volunteer their time or be paid for this critical civil rights work. If you are interested in helping to put an end to housing discrimination, please contact us at 1-877-979-FAIR.

Proceeds from Facials go to FHC

We are excited to announce that Jessica’s Skin and Body Apothecary is donating 5% of the purchase price of two of their organic facials to the Fair Housing Center during the months of May, June, and July. Looking for something special to get mom for Mother’s Day? Maybe a gift that the two of you can do together? This would be perfect!

Whether you plan to support the Fair Housing Center by treating yourself, or buying a gift, you can book your “1 Hour Organic Facial” or the “Beyond Organic – Biodynamic Facial” today. Just be sure to receive these services in the months of May, June, or July so that 5% of the proceeds will go to the FHC. Help your skin and help promote accessible, integrated communities.

Jessica’s Skin and Body Apothecary is located at the corner of North Fifth Avenue and Catherine in Kerrytown. To book your service, visit www.jessicasapothecary.com or call 734-545-4303.

FHC Teams up with EMU’s Office of Academic Service-Learning

This past January, the Fair Housing Center began a partnership with Eastern Michigan University’s Office of Academic Service-Learning and Engaged Scholarship (AS-L). AS-L Director Jessica “Decky” Alexander worked with the FHC to connect one of AS-L’s Michigan Service Scholars, Monica Kozakiewicz, with the FHC.

Monica and FHC staff worked together to create an outreach initiative for EMU staff and students – with a particular emphasis on the recruitment of actors – to get involved with the FHC’s testing program. On March 19th and 22nd, the FHC hosted on-campus informational sessions for this “EMU Fair Housing Actors Initiative.” We look forward to many more years of this collaboration!

Monica is also a student in the Communication Media and Theatre Arts program at EMU and in an applied drama class. Her class chose to work on a theatre project regarding fair housing issues where they will give ‘voice’ to issues surrounding housing discrimination. The production is scheduled to be performed on the evening of April 23rd in downtown Ypsilanti. Contact info@fhcmichigan.org if you are interested in learning more or attending.

FHC Held National Test Coordinator Retreat in Ann Arbor

Last fall, the Fair Housing Center hosted a Test Coordinator Swap Meet for experienced coordinators of fair housing investigations. We welcomed participants from around the country, as far away as Hawaii, to Ann Arbor for this retreat.

For two days, 28 participants discussed tester recruitment and retention, new technology, testing techniques, preserving evidence, and tester training.

Fred Freiberg, from the Fair Housing Justice Center in New York City, delivered a talk to participants about testing as the core work of fair housing groups.

New Michigan Radio Series Looks at Legal LGBT Discrimination in Michigan

Michigan Watch, the investigative unit of Michigan Radio, is in the midst of a series on legal discrimination against the LGBT community in Michigan. Investigative reporter Lester Graham questions why it is legal to discriminate in housing and employment against LGBT persons. Mr. Graham contacted the Fair Housing Center to talk with Associate Director Kristen Cuhran about LGBT discrimination cases filed at the FHC, as well as the ARCUS study the FHCs of Michigan conducted in 2005. The piece (one of at least a dozen) is set to air in April on 91.7 FM

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