Sanibel Man Staves Off Eviction; AARP, Bazelon Center Hail Victory for Seniors and People with Disabilities

For Immediate Release
November 10, 2003     

Contact: Kathy Marma, AARP Florida

Christopher Burley, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
202-467-5730 x 133

Sanibel, FL — An 82-year-old man who faced eviction because his landlord thought he was disabled has won the right to stay in his home of twelve years, and has secured a major change in Sanibel’s affordable housing policy.  Settlement terms were announced today in the lawsuit filed in August by Howard “Hop” Symons against Sanibel, a nonprofit housing provider and its director, which had alleged violations of federal anti-discrimination laws.

In addition to renewing his lease, the defendants have revised their policies to eliminate any reference to “ability to live independently” as a criterion for tenancy. Attorneys from AARP and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and Fort Myers attorney Josephine Gagliardi, who represented Symons in the suit, applauded the settlement. 

“We appreciate the willingness of the City and other defendants to bring this matter to a successful resolution,” said senior attorney Susan Silverstein at AARP, the nation’s largest membership organization for older Americans. “Hopefully, housing providers in other communities across the country will follow Sanibel’s lead and do away with ‘independent living’ policies that arbitrarily discriminate against seniors and people with disabilities.” 

The lawsuit, settled Nov. 3, had been filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. It alleged that Community Housing and Resources, Inc. violated the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by adopting and enforcing a discriminatory “independent living” policy against applicants and residents in its affordable housing program.

Attorneys for the plaintiff argued that the independent living criterion had a harsh and impermissible effect on older people and people with disabilities, because it disqualified them from tenancy if they needed even minor assistance with activities such as housekeeping, meal preparation, bathing or assistance with medications. 

“Federal courts in six states have declared so-called ‘independent living’ policies illegal,” said Michael Allen, senior staff attorney for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “The law is very clear—tenants of all kinds of housing are permitted as much or as little assistance as they need to comply with the terms of their lease and to provide care for themselves.”

Symons, an active bicycle rider and tap dancer, had maintained throughout the dispute that he was entirely capable of taking care of his own needs— an opinion shared by three of his doctors and his pharmacist, one of whom noted that Symons arrived at appointments by bicycle and was well-engaged in managing his health.

With more than 2.6 million members in Florida -- and 35 million nationwide -- AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people 50 and over. We provide information and resources; advocate on legislative, consumer, and legal issues; assist members to serve their communities; and offer a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for our members. These benefits include AARP Webplace at, AARP Modern Maturity, and My Generation magazines, the monthly AARP Bulletin, and a Spanish-language newspaper, Segunda Juventud. Active in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, AARP celebrates the attitude that age is just a number and life is what you make it.

The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is the leading national legal advocate for people with mental disabilities. Through precedent-setting litigation and in the public policy arena, the Bazelon Center works to advance and preserve the rights of adults and children with mental illnesses and cognitive disabilities.