Once again – as in past Memorial Day editions – I’m firing up the grill with hundred dollar bills in honor of the money wasted on lawyers, who are the only ones who really benefit from most ADA and FHA litigation. There are, however, some cases dealing addressing important substantive issues, and few in which Courts seem ready to turn the ADA and FHA into laws to help people instead of laws to make lawyers rich. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - serial litigation, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA regulations, ADA Website Accessibility, Animals, Animals, FHA Emotional Support Animals, FHA Guidance, FHA Regulation, Internet Accessibility Tags: ADA 2020, ADA defense, COVID-19, Emotional Support Animals, FHA 2020, FHA Defense, Usablenet
Here’s a toast to the end of a bad year. I don’t know anyone who won’t be happy to see 2020 behind us, but it’s worth looking back at how the law of accessibility developed in the last year.
Fair Housing Act developments were bracketed by two events, one of which was scarcely noticed but could be important. In February, to considerable fanfare, HUD rolled out its new Guidance on requests for accommodation concerning animals.¹ Its many disclaimers about not being a regulation and not having any binding effect were not enough for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which opined on December 17, 2020² that the Guidance violated the Congressional Review Act because it was not submitted to Congress for approval before it took effect. It is not surprising that HUD ignored the law, but HUD often ignores both science and the law, so to the extent the Guidance reflects what HUD’s investigators will do it provides some useful information on staying out of trouble in a HUD investigation even if it isn’t helpful as a guide to complying with the FHA. More
On October 9, which seems like an eternity ago based on the number of emails and texts I’ve gotten asking for contributions to various political parties and politicians, I reported on HUD’s new regulations on disparate impact claims published on September 24. It was a counterpoint to the decision in Connecticut Fair Housing Center v. CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions, LLC, 2020 WL 4570110 (D.Conn. August 7, 2020) holding that third party service providers could violate the FHA. I had to update the blog on October 22 when the National Fair Housing Alliance and others filed National Fair Housing Alliance v. Ben Carson, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Case No.3:20-cv-07388 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. That lawsuit attacked the legality of the new HUD regulations on numerous grounds. (the Complaint is 66 pages long). It wasn’t the only lawsuit in the works though. On October 25, 2020 the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts entered a Preliminary Injunction staying the effect of the new HUD rule. Massachusetts Fair Housing Center et al v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Case No. 3:20-cv-11765 (October 25, 2020). Judge Mastoianni found that the changes constituted a “massive overhaul of HUD’s disparate impact standards” to the benefit of housing providers and the detriment of buyers and renters. Of the three grounds for ultimately overturning the regulation Judge Mastoianni relied on only one; that the new rule was “arbitrary and capricious.” He found that the regulation went beyond the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas Dep’t of Hous. & Cmty. Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 576 U.S. 519, 524 (2015), the leading case on disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act. Thus, it could not be justified as an effort to align regulations with case law. He also rejected HUD’s other reason for the regulation – that it provided greater clarity – on the ground that the new rule was far from clear.
Because the ruling only concerns a preliminary injunction there is no final decision on whether the HUD rule is arbitrary and capricious. For a preliminary injunction the court must only find that the plaintiff has a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits.” The order can and probably will be appealed. In the meantime the new Rule is stayed and HUD is forbidden to implement it. Stay tuned.
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA, FHA, FHA Emotional Support Animals, FHA Reasonable Accommodation, FHA Regulation Tags: CoreLogic, criminal conviction screening, FHA Defense, HUD discriminatory effect, HUD disparate impact, Inclusive Communities, National Fair Housing Alliance v. Carson, Vanessa Bryant
The recent decision from Judge Vanessa Bryant in Connecticut Fair Housing Center v. CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions, LLC, 2020 WL 4570110 (D.Conn. August 7, 2020) was followed only weeks later by HUD’s final regulation on disparate impact claims, 85 FR at 60288, September 24, 2020.¹ The CoreLogic decision’s most important holding was that a third party tenant screening service could be liable for providing information that had a disparate impact on a protected class, but Judge Bryant’s denial of a slew of defense motions for summary judgment was a reminder of the potential power of disparate impact claims. HUD’s new regulation, titled “HUD’s Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Standard” creates a set of landlord friendly rules for disparate impact claims that may make CoreLogic irrelevent.
NOTE: on October 22, 2020 the National Fair Housing Alliance and others filed National Fair Housing Alliance v. Ben Carson, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Case No.3:20-cv-07388 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit attacks the legality of the new HUD regulations on numerous grounds. (the Complaint is 66 pages long). It was presumably filed in a plaintiff friendly court, and the Ninth Circuit is a civil rights friendly circuit, but the legality of the rule will ultimately go to a Supreme Court that is far less friendly to civil rights legislation. If there is a change of administration in November this regulation is likely to be short lived, so housing providers should probably not make too much of it until we know where the political winds will decide to blow.
This blog and the next were prompted by two recent efforts by state officials to deal with the problem of emotional support animals. One was a decision from the Iowa Supreme Court that puts a state law overlay on how to deal with conflicts between disabled and non-disabled tenants. You can find the details in William Goren’s blog.¹ The other was a recent legislative effort in Florida, the passage of Senate Bill 1084, which adds specific anti-discrimination provisions for emotional support animals.² These are far from the first efforts at the state level to do something about animals and disabilities,³ but they illustrate the problems these laws create for landlords trying to deal with fake emotional support animal requests.(4) More