Illinois Landlord May Be Required To Accommodate Tenant Who Became Wheelchair Bound

A federal district judge has ruled that a Chicago area landlord may have to allow a tenant to move from the third floor to the first floor to make a reasonable accommodation to her use of a wheelchair.

The plaintiffs, Karen Roseborough and her minor daughter Lindsey, leased a third floor apartment at the Cottonwood Apartments in Mount Prospect, Illinois in September 1992. By December 1992, Karen, who suffers from degenerative arthritis, had become ph ysically disabled and dependent on use of a wheelchair. The plaintiffs are African-American.

Beginning in January 1993, Karen told the Cottonwood Apartments about her changed physical condition and asked to relocate to a lower floor to accommodate her disability. She made several inquiries in February and continuing until May of 1993, but the defendant failed to accommodate her request although there were vacant lower floor apartments.

The Roseboroughs asked the landlord to move them to a first floor apartment or to end their lease so they could move elsewhere. After Cottonwood did not agree to either request, plaintiffs sued alleging housing and civil rights discrimination based o n handicap and race as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Federal District Judge Charles Kocoras granted Defendant's motion to dismiss their first amended complaint. He held the landlord had no duty to release them from their lease or to relocate them to the first floor. Judge Kocoras noted that the complaint did not include any details regarding the Roseboroughs' request for a first-floor apartment. He said, "The plaintiffs have plainly failed to show how the defendants discriminated against them."

The Plaintiffs later filed a second amended complaint alleging that Cottonwood had violated Sections 804(d) and (f) of the Fair Housing Act by not agreeing to their request to move to a lower floor to accommodate Karen Roseborough's disability.

Judge Kocoras denied Cottonwood's motion to dismiss the Roseboroughs' amended Fair Housing Act claim. He ruled that they had stated a reasonable accommodation claim under Section 804. Judge Kocoras said that Cottonwood was under a duty to reasonably a ccommodate the Roseboroughs, and whether this duty included moving them to a first-floor apartment was a question of fact. But he again dismissed the Roseborough's intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim because they had not established that Cottonwood's conduct was extreme and outrageous.

Judge Kocoras said the case was different from most Fair Housing Act cases because no actual denial of housing was present. He said, "The plaintiffs continued to reside in the third floor apartment at Cottonwood for the duration of their lease. Rather, the plaintiffs assert, by failing to provide a lower floor apartment in the complex, the defendants did not reasonably accommodate the plaintiffs as required by the FHAA."

The Court said the plaintiffs had stated a claim under the Fair Housing Act. "Although a tenant who signs a lease for a particular apartment generally has no right to move to another apartment in the same building or complex, the second amended complain t presents a distinguishable situation. The plaintiff's assert that Karen Roseborough's confinement to a wheelchair made the third floor apartment unsuitable several months after she took possession. "...the defendant was under a duty to reasonably accom modate the plaintiffs. Whether relocating the plaintiffs under the circumstances transcended the defendant's duty to reasonably accommodate the plaintiffs is a question of fact."

Judge Kocoras ruled that the second amended complaint "fails to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois law in that the plaintiffs fail to establish that the defendant's conduct was extreme and outrageous."

Brenda Shavers of the Fair Housing Clinic of the John Marshall Law School served as Counsel for the Roseboroughs. Anne Power and Shannon Kennedy, both legal interns at the Fair Housing Legal Clinic worked on this case.

[Roseborough v. Cottonwood Apartments, NO. 94 C3708, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17652 (N.D.Ill. 12-8-94)]