Familial status case settles for $130,000

Los Angeles, CA

Contact: Gary Rhoades, Litigation Director
213/387-8400

February 24, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Housing Rights Center and Seven Families Obtain $130,000 Consent Decree Against Condominium Association and Management Company That Prohibited
Children From Playing Outside

(PICO RIVERA, CALIF., Feb. 24, 2003) -- In a case where a condominium association and its management company allegedly prohibited children from playing outside at their Pico Rivera, California homes, a federal judge has signed a Consent Decree and Final Order granting seven plaintiff-families and the Housing Rights Center a permanent injunction and $130,000 in compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees. 

In Housing Rights Center et al v. Rivera Townhomes et al, #CV 02-5163PA(C.D. Cal. Feb. 2003) the Housing Rights Center along with Adele Samorano and seventeen other plaintiffs (making up seven families), sued the condominium association and property management company (Baldwin Management Co.) in federal court in August of 2001, alleging that defendants discriminated against homeowners on the basis of familial status in the operation of the 56-unit townhouse complex. Specifically, the complaint alleged that defendants enforced a rule prohibiting children from playing in the complex’s common areas. According to the defendants’ written rules and fine notices, the common areas included the grass-covered yards and balconies. The current executive board had not allowed a new election in nearly two years, and so the lawsuit also alleged violations of state corporation codes.

On February 12, 2003, Judge Percy Anderson signed a Consent Decree and Final Order under which the defendants must pay plaintiffs $130,000 along with repealing all rules regarding children. The defendants also agreed to a two year program of training for all key staff in Baldwin Management and the boardmembers of Rivera. Earlier in the litigation, the defendants had already agreed to resolved the election claims by allowing a new election, which resulted in a board that decided to repeal the rules against children.

“We’re all thrilled with this Consent Decree,” said plaintiff Adele Samorano, on behalf of her family and the other six. “Our children are now playing outside, free from fears about harassment or fines. Our homes and community are now healthy environments for all of us.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Gary Rhoades said the case was not unusual in Los Angeles. “Dozens of families from cities throughout Los Angeles County are reporting to HRC these cases where rules trap their children indoors all day, evening, weekend and summer. Each case involves landlords or managers or boardmembers who failed to get fair housing training, where they should learn that housing providers can’t limit families’ access to facilities or services.”

Rhoades also said the cases involve allegations of severe emotional distress. HRC turned to Los Angeles child psychologist Dr. Robert Caper for help in substantiating the emotional distress injuries the families were describing. In his expert declaration used at the settlement conference in HRC v. Rivera, Dr. Caper wrote:

“Children need easily accessible outside places to play. Playing outside is an important part of the child’s developmental program to differentiate himself or herself pscychologically from his or her parents . . . Children who are cooped up exhibit signs of stress, and this in turn causes stress to their parents, which in turn has a direct effect on their ability to parent well, which causes additional stress to their children, and so on in a vicious cycle.”

Dr. Caper also discussed what occurs when parents are forced to impose unrealistic and unhealthy restrictions on their children’s activities to avoid fines or eviction: “Children are liable to understand this and interpret it as hostility coming from the parents which damages the relationship between the parents and the children. 

The plaintiffs were represented by Gary Rhoades and Danielle Jones from HRC. The Los Angeles law firms of Crandall, Wade & Lowe and Manning & Marder represented the defendants.