The Justice Department announced that the owner and former manager of rental properties in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, have agreed to resolve a federal lawsuit brought by the United States in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The United States alleged that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act when they refused to let a tenant’s girlfriend move in with him because she was pregnant with his son and because the tenant was in recovery from an addiction to alcohol.
In 1988, Congress expanded the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on familial status and disability. The Act’s ban on familial status discrimination protects individuals under 18 years old, as well as any person who is pregnant. The Fair Housing Act’s disability protections cover people in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, but they do not apply to current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance. The tenant in the United States’ lawsuit successfully completed an alcohol treatment program and was in recovery from his addiction for approximately nine months before requesting that his girlfriend move into the property.
“For more than three decades, federal law has prohibited housing discrimination against individuals because they are pregnant or because they are in recovery from alcohol addiction,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The resolution of this lawsuit advances the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring that individuals expecting children, as well as people recovering from an addiction, have equal access to housing opportunities free from illegal discrimination.”
“The expectation and arrival of a new baby is supposed to prompt celebration, not the threat of eviction,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “The same should be true of individuals putting in the hard work to manage their addictions – they deserve support, not hurdles to access safe, affordable housing. Expanding families and those working to remain on stable footing should be able to rely on the stability of their home.”
The consent order resolving the lawsuit, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, arose as a result of a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the tenant on behalf of himself and his minor daughter. After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department.
“The Fair Housing Act seeks to ensure that individuals, who are recovering from addiction, and their families can access housing free from housing discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Demetria L. McCain for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at HUD. “HUD applauds the Department of Justice for its partnership with HUD and its aid in resolution of this matter.”
Under the consent order, the defendants will pay a total of $75,000 to the tenant and his child. The consent order also requires defendants to take actions directed towards preventing future unlawful discrimination, including complying with the Fair Housing Act, undergoing training and implementing nondiscrimination policies on the Fair Housing Act in connection with the rental and management of residential properties, and submitting to compliance and reporting requirements.