Single mother receives $18,000 in familial status case

Tennessee Fair Housing Council
719 Thompson Lane, Suite 200
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 383-6155
Fax: (615) 383-8389

Contact: Tracey McCartney, Executive Director, or
Martha Lafferty, Staff Attorney
(615) 383-6155

(GALLATIN, Tenn., Dec. 30, 2002) -- A single mother will receive a total of $18,000 in damages and attorney fees to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit against the owners and manager of Halewood Manor, an apartment complex in Gallatin, Tenn.

Under the terms of the settlement, the owners and manager of the complex also will receive training on the Fair Housing Act and will refrain from violating state and federal fair housing laws.
The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff was denied an apartment at the complex on several occasions because she has a small child. The plaintiff had hoped to get an apartment at the complex because of it is affordable and because her brother had lived there.

According to the complaint, when the plaintiff first attempted to rent a unit at Halewood Manor in June 2001, complex manager Onie Clark told her the only available unit was upstairs and that she could not rent the unit because her child, who was about eight months old at the time, would disturb the downstairs neighbors. The plaintiff asked Ms. Clark to call her back if any downstairs units became available, but she never heard from Ms. Clark.

In September, the plaintiff allegedly contacted Ms. Clark again about an apartment. This time, a downstairs apartment was available, but Ms. Clark allegedly would not rent to her, claiming that the complex’s policy did not allow two people in a one-bedroom apartment. In mid-October, the plaintiff allegedly tried again, responding to an ad in The Gallatin News Examiner. Again, according to the complaint, Ms. Clark told her that she and her son, who was 12 months old at the time, could not share a one-bedroom apartment.

According to the complaint, in November 2001 the plaintiff made her last call to the complex and was told that the complex does not rent one-bedroom apartments to families with children because they are too close to the street and because the stairs to them are too steep.

The plaintiff filed a complaint with the Tennessee Fair Housing Council. The Council’s attorney, Martha M. Lafferty, filed a federal lawsuit on the plaintiff’s behalf based on the complex’s alleged violations of the federal Fair Housing Act. The Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status, which is the presence or anticipated presence of children under 18 in a household.

Ms. Clark and complex owners Holly and Kerry Bullington of Kentucky did not admit liability in the case, and there was no finding of liability against them.

Before the case was settled, the defendants had admitted to a practice at Halewood Manor of not renting one-bedroom units or units near the street to families with children. However, they maintained that such a practice was not illegal.

However, the Fair Housing Council’s position was that blanket “no-children” policies in apartment complexes are clearly illegal, but other rules - only one person in a one-bedroom apartment, no children upstairs - can also violate the Fair Housing Act.

“Assumptions about crowding, safety and noise are not legitimate reasons to turn children away from apartments,” said Tracey M. McCartney, the executive director of the Fair Housing Council. “Policies that in effect make it impossible for people with children to find an apartment or that would segregate them into certain parts of a complex are as illegal as a ‘no-children’ rule would be.”

While landlords can make rules that actually keep tenants safe, they can’t simply decide where children can live based on vague concerns about stairs or nearby streets, McCartney said.

The Tennessee Fair Housing Council is a private, non-profit advocacy organization whose mission is to fight housing discrimination. The Council’s enforcement program covers Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson Counties. The bulk of the Council’s work is funded by the Fair Housing Initiatives Program, a competitive federal grant program created by Congress and operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Council has a staff of three: McCartney, Lafferty and Enforcement Coordinator Saul Eady, Jr. Its board president is Fred Cloud.