Ronald Ray Smith, a polio victim who uses a wheelchair for mobility, began investigating multifamily apartment housing developments to test developer compliance with the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA). As part of a program organized by the local Disabled Rights Action Committee (DRAC), Smith discovered discriminatory design and construction in several developments.
The defects Smith observed included inaccessible interior doorways, pathways and thermostats. He and DRAC filed administrative complaints with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, which conducted its own investigation, confirmed the FHAA violations and entered into a consent decree with the apartment complex owner.
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Unaware of the consent decree, Smith and DRAC visited another of the developer’s apartment complexes and again encountered architectural barriers in the common areas.
Smith and DRAC then sued the developer for discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling because of the handicap of that person.
If you were the judge would you rule tester Smith and non-profit civil rights group DRAC have standing to sue the developer for discrimination against the handicapped?
The judge said yes!
Before deciding this case, the judge began, it must be noted neither Smith nor any member of the non-profit civil rights group DRAC have any interest in actually purchasing or renting the properties inspected for violations of FHAA. They are “testers,” he explained.
“Testers have played a long and important role in fair housing enforcement, stemming from the Supreme Court’s 2-decade-old determination that with the FHA (Fair Housing Act), Congress intended to establish a broad set of rights to be free from housing discrimination, and that as a general rule, courts should not erect standing barriers…to those seeking to vindicate these rights,” the judge emphasized.
Therefore, both Smith and the DRAC organization have standing as “testers” to sue real estate developers for failure to comply with FHAA regulations, which require reasonable access for handicapped housing rental and purchase applicants, the judge ruled.
Based on the 2004 U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Smith v. Pacific Properties, 358 Fed.3d 1097.
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