Oregon woman wins $50,000 posthumous settlement in reasonable accomodation case

Late last year, the estate of an Oregon woman won a $50,000 settlement from the landlords that tried to evict her as she lay dying. Ms. Jones (a pseudonym) died of cancer on December 17, 1997, one month after she received an eviction notice from her landlords, Carolyn and Kenneth Smith.  Her daughter continued the lawsuit in her name.

The Smiths attempted to evict Jones because her mother had moved in to care for her, and because she had too many visitors.  The visitors included hospice workers and her daughter who attended school in California.
The Smiths delivered an eviction notice to Jones on November 17, 1997.  Doctors had diagnosed Jones with terminal cancer and had given her a short time to live.  There was no way she could move within thirty days of the notice.  Jones's friends and family tried to get the Smiths to withdraw or extend the eviction notice.  The Smiths refused.  When Jones's daughter attempted to pay the rent for December, the Smiths refused that, too.

A friend of Jones called the Fair Housing Council of Oregon.  The Council helped file a federal lawsuit on Jones's behalf, and requested a temporary restraining order to stop the eviction.  District Judge Owen Panner granted the temporary order on December 12, 1997.  Jones died five days later, before Judge Panner ruled on whether to issue a permanent injunction. 

Throughout the eviction proceedings, the Smiths insisted that the one-bedroom apartment where Jones lived was too small to have two people living there.  They also said that Jones's bed should not be in the living room. 

The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from mistreating tenants based on disability.  The Act also requires a landlord to adjust policies or practices when it is reasonable and necessary for a person with a disability to live in and enjoy their home.  The Fair Housing Council of Oregon and Jones's daughter assert that the Smiths attempted to evict Jones unfairly because she was disabled and required constant care.

The $50,000 settlement came nearly a year after Jones died.  The Austin Tenants Council settled a similar case in Texas in 1996.  (See May 1996 Advocate.)