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Big Housing Win for People with Disabilities

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NC Supreme Court rules landlords must give specific reasons for eviction

Having a place to call home is the most basic need for all people. Housing provides safety. Housing provides dignity. It is fundamental to our lives. 

People with disabilities are the most likely to experience housing discrimination in North Carolina. That is why DRNC has a team of attorneys who focus on housing issues. Recently, DRNC teamed up with other housing advocates on an important case where the housing rights of people with disabilities were at stake. 

In this case, a woman was being evicted from her apartment. However, the landlord, Raleigh Housing Authority (RHA), only told her that she had violated a condition of her lease. They did not give specific reasons for why they were evicting her.  

It is important to know the specific reasons why you are being evicted so you can defend yourself. Additionally, landlords paid with federal money are required by law to give specific reasons for eviction. 

Why RHA v. Wilson impacts people with disabilities

So how would the decision of this case specifically affect people with disabilities? Imagine that a tenant is being evicted for behaviors directly related to their disability. But they don’t know it because the landlord didn’t give specific behaviors as the reason. Instead, the eviction notice only lists a condition of the lease the tenant broke, like “disturbing neighbors.    

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA)tenants with disabilities have the right to ask for reasonable accommodations to help them live in their homes. A reasonable accommodation is a change to the rules to make housing and services accessible to a person. tenant can ask for a reasonable accommodation at any time, including during eviction proceedingsA reasonable accommodation can be a defense to eviction. But if the tenant doesn’t know what they are being evicted for, they can’t ask for an accommodation. That is why it is so important to know the specific reason for being evicted. 

Alsoit can sometimes be difficult for people with intellectual or mental health disabilities to understand or address a vague eviction noticeFor instance, some disabilities hinder decision-making abilities. Other disabilities make it hard for a person to generalize or think abstractly. As a result, that person might have trouble seeing how a general eviction notice applies to their situation. These tenants may benefit from a reasonable accommodation defense to eviction. However, without specific details, they wouldn’t be able to use that defense. 

How a reasonable accommodation can be a defense to eviction

Here are some examples of when a reasonable accommodation would be useful as a defense to eviction: 

  • A tenant with mental health disabilities was making noise because they were not receiving the mental health care they need.  The landlord wanted to evict the tenant for the noise violations. It would be a reasonable accommodation to allow the tenant time to secure the mental health services and supports to correct the noise issues, rather than evicting them. 
  • A tenant with mobility and/or mental health disabilities had a messy apartment. The tenant’s disability made it extremely difficult for them to clean the apartmentAs a result, they failed an inspection by the landlord.  The landlord wanted to evict the tenant for failing the inspection. A reasonable accommodation would be to allow the tenant time for a relative or friend to help them clean the apartment and schedule new inspection. 

NC Supreme Court Agrees

Fortunately, the NC Supreme Court unanimously agreed that housing providers must give details about specific reasons for eviction so tenants can adequately defend themselves.  DRNC attorneys Elizabeth Myerholtz, Lisa Grafstein and Lisa Nesbitt participated in this statewide victory. 

Want to learn more? Read the NC Supreme Court opinion for RHA v. WinstonYou can also read the amici curiae (“friends of the court”) brief filed by DRNC and other housing advocacy groups. 

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