N.C. condo assoc. liable for housing discrimination

North Carolina Fair Housing Center
Phone: (919) 667-0888 ext.30

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(ASHEVILLE, N.C., Aug. 21, 2002) -- A federal jury has determined that an Etowah condominium association and certain of its residents violated the federal Fair Housing Act  when it forced a family of four to move out of the development and thereafter took illegal steps to discourage other families from moving 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, of Etowah.  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 issue amongst themselves.

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.  The family was then harassed by the residents until they decided to put their home up for sale.  The defendants thereafter attempted to steer families with children away from the development by writing.
The award may be the largest award for a "familial status" violation under the 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 clearly message not only to these defendants but to other condominium associations," says Asheville Attorney Philip J. Roth who, along with his law partner, Clifford C. "Kip" Marshall, Jr., represented the Edwards family.  "And that message is that our civil rights are important and not something to be trivialized or trifled with."

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.  The Defendants then sent a letter to Etowah realtor, B.J. Greer Century 21 in Etowah, instructing the realtor not to show condominium units to families with children.  Still later after being rebuffed by Century 21, 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.

In all, the Edwards stand to recover in excess of one hundred thousand dollars including settlements with other defendants prior to trial.  A petition for to recover the Edwards attorneys fees is pending.

"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 complaints pending against the Etowah Condominium Association with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for similar violations.