North Carolina family wins $75,000 settlement from condo association that forced them out

A federal jury has determined that an Etowah, North Carolina condominium association and certain residents violated the federal Fair Housing Act when they forced a family of four to move out of the development and took illegal steps to discourage other families from moving in. The jury of five men in. The jury of five men and three women awarded $65,000 in compensatory damages to Lisa and Ronnie Edwards and their minor sons, Alex and Davey, after a trial in August. 

In addition to the compensatory damage award, the Jury notified United States Magistrate Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. that punitive damages were appropriate based on the defendants’ malicious or reckless disregard of the plaintiffs’ rights. 

While the jury deliberated on the punitive damage award, however, the parties settled the case for $75,000. The jury found that the defendants first attempted to keep Lisa Edwards and her two sons, Alex and Davey, aged 12 and 6 respectively, from moving into the development by invoking the Association’s illegal bylaw restricting residents to persons aged sixteen and older. When the attempt to discourage Mrs. Edwards from moving in failed, the defendants collectively harassed the family until the family put their home up for sale three months later.

Association wrote letter to real estate agent instructing her not to sell to families with children

The defendants then sent a letter to B.J. Greer, an Etowah real estate agent with Century 21 Real Estate, instructing the agent not to show condominium units to families with children. After Greer refused to follow the association’s illegal instructions, the defendants erected a sign at the entrance to their development which falsely advertised that the development was a "Retirement Community." The jury found all of these actions constituted an illegal attempt to steer families with children away from the development.

The award may be the largest award for a familial status violation under the federal Fair Housing Act in North Carolina history. The defendants had argued to the jury that the defendants’ actions, taken together, had amounted to no more than a technical violation of the Fair Housing Act worth perhaps five hundred to a thousand dollars. 

"This jury has sent a very clear message not only to these defendants but to other condominium associations," said Asheville Attorney Philip J. Roth who, along with his law partner, Clifford C. Marshall, Jr., represented the Edwards family. "That message is that our civil rights are important and not something to be trivialized or trifled with."

"Mrs. Edwards and her family deserve this award. This was a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act," said Stella Adams, Executive Director of the North Carolina Fair Housing Center. The Center originally investigated this case and currently has several additional complaints pending against the Etowah Condominium Association with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for similar violations.