Fair Housing Council of Orange County settles housing discrimination case for $185,000

Fostering Diversity in Housing
201 S. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701-5633
FAX 714/835-0281

Connie Der Torossian, Community Relations Director
714/569-0823 x 217 or 714/313-8699 (cell)


SANTA ANA, CALIF., October 12, 2004…The Fair Housing Council of Orange County announced today that the non-profit agency has reached a $185,000 settlement in a housing discrimination case against L'Abri Property Management, the company that manages the Sleepy Hollow Apartments in Anaheim, Calif.  The Fair Housing Council joined Cynthia and Howard Cole as plaintiffs in the action. When the Cole's requested a reasonable accommodation due to her documented disability L'Abri Property Management refused to waive their no pet policy telling Mrs. Cole, in a letter, that the companion animal prescribed by 3 separate doctors was not necessary to her treatment.  After their request was denied, the Cole's were served a 3-day notice to perform covenant or quit, requiring them to remove the companion animal or move out.  This action caused Cynthia's health condition to deteriorate so badly she had to be hospitalized for over two weeks.

While making no admission of liability or wrongdoing, L'Abri Property Management and its owner, agreed to pay a total of $185,000 in damages, not engage in unlawful housing discrimination and to change the rules in place at all their residential rental homes to delete any unlawful discriminatory terms or conditions.  L'Abri agreed to use the reasonable accommodation forms and follow procedures for granting reasonable accommodations outlined by the Fair Housing Council of Orange County.  In addition, for the next three years, the defendants' employees and managers must attend fair housing training once a year, keep records of individuals inquiring about renting and requesting reasonable accommodations and make those records available to the Fair Housing Council.  They must also give all tenants fair housing information and post fair housing signs in all rental offices.

"I'm pleased to announce a settlement in this case, but more importantly, I'm glad we successfully advocated for the rights of Mr. and Mrs. Cole.  The Fair Housing Council hopes this will send a message to the community that mental disabilities are just as debilitating as physical disabilities and have the same protections under the law," said Elizabeth Pierson, CEO/president and General Counsel of the Fair Housing Council of Orange County.

The complaint, filed in June 2002 in partnership with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) by the Fair Housing Council, alleges that L'Abri Property Management and their employees discriminated against Cynthia Cole by not granting her request for a waiver of the no pet policy even though she had a documented disability under fair housing laws.  Cynthia's doctors had prescribed a companion animal to assist her with her mental disability and emotional well being.

"This case was originally filed with HUD and DFEH, and the support of these agencies helped to bring this case to a successful conclusion without the need for prolonged litigation," Pierson added.

After the first denial of the Cole's reasonable accommodation request, they sought help and contacted the Fair Housing Council of Orange County which also requested L'Abri comply with the law and grant the reasonable accommodation requested.  The management company refused to heed the advice of the Fair Housing Council even after L'Abri was sent a copy of the law.  L'Abri continued to demand the Cole's move.  The denial of the reasonable accommodation request for a person with a documented disability, whether you can see the disability or not, is a direct violation of fair housing law.  State and federal fair housing laws make it illegal to deny housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, source of income, sexual orientation, marital status or national origin.  In 1988, with the support of President Reagan, Congress widened the protections and made it illegal to discriminate against families with children or on the basis of handicap or disability.

The Fair Housing Council of Orange County is a private, nonprofit organization formed in 1965 in the wake of the civil rights movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The agency incorporated in 1968, the same year that Congress extended civil rights protections to cover housing with the adoption of the Fair Housing Act.  Under the direction of a 15 member volunteer board of directors and with a paid staff of 15, the agency works to fulfill a mission of fostering diversity and eliminating housing discrimination in Orange County.  Contracting with local governments to provide fair housing services to all Orange County residents, the agency provides comprehensive community and industry education, individual counseling, mediation, low-cost advocacy and handles more than 250 issues concerning housing discrimination each year.  The Fair Housing Council also recently expanded it programs to include comprehensive education programs for housing providers, property managers, lenders and real estate professionals.  For more information, call 800/698-FAIR or 714/569-0823 or visit www.fairhousingoc.org.