North Carolina group home operator wins $7,000 from “Concerned Homeowners” association

A group of homeowners from the town of Trent Woods, North Carolina will pay $7,000 to settle a lawsuit that it filed against the Town of Trent Woods and Carolina Choice, a group home operator. Carolina Choice countersued the homeowners alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, North Carolina fair housing laws, and a North Carolina state law that recognizes the operation of group homes as “residential use” for zoning purposes. The March settlement was presented in an open session of the Town’s Board of Commissioners.

The residents who opposed the group homes, calling themselves Trent Woods Concerned Homeowners, filed the lawsuit in an attempt to remove two group homes for special needs children and adolescents from their neighborhoods. The litigation could end up costing the homeowners even more, since the Town spent $23,000 to defend itself in the lawsuit. According to the New Bern Sun Journal, the Town may have to increase taxes to cover the litigation costs. Throughout the litigation, the Town asserted that fair housing laws required them to allow the group homes to operate.

Settlement requires homeowners to end opposition to group homes and take down web site

The settlement agreement requires the homeowners group to dissolve its association, shut down its web site and not interfere or challenge the operation of the family care homes within town limits. The agreement also forbids the homeowners from forming any new associations with different names.

The homeowners association’s web site at www.trentwoodsconcernedhomeowners.org has been taken offline, but a cached snapshot of the page showed memos from attorneys, calendars for meetings and volunteer actions, and news updates about the opposition to the groups homes. The web site made allegations of declining property values due to the group homes’ presence but pointed to no actual statistics, only the opinions of residents opposed to the group homes.

Group home opponents vowed to “see this to the end” to protect town from “businesses” moving in In what was apparently the last update to the site, one of the founders of Trent Woods Concerned Homeowners, wrote, “Rest assured that we have not backed down and will see this to the end to protect Trent Woods from businesses and violations of zoning laws.” This September 2002 post also claimed that attorneys thought they could succeed in shutting down the residential care homes.

Trent Woods Mayor Victoria Watson was relieved to have the lawsuit settle. “The lawsuit has produced significant litigation costs to all parties,” she told the Sun Journal. “The parties are choosing to settle the case to end the costs and provide certainty to the results.” The town maintained the group homes did not violate town zoning ordinances and that state and federal fair housing laws prevented them from seeing the group homes as anything more than residences.

According to North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 168, Article 3: “A family care home shall be deemed a residential use of property for zoning purposes and shall be a permissible use in all residential districts in all political subdivisions.”

“We did the only thing we were allowed to do under the law,” Watson told the Sun Journal. “We regret that this put us at odds with some of our citizens.”