Many people don’t give their secure housing a second thought. But for far too many North Carolinians, safe, accessible housing can be cruelly elusive.
Disabled people are the most likely to experience housing discrimination in NC. Disability Rights NC helps people with disabilities fight and overcome barriers to housing.
Stella J. Adams Fair Housing Advocate Award
Last month, Legal Aid of North Carolina honored DRNC with their Fair Housing Project’s Stella J. Adams Fair Housing Advocate Award, recognizing our staff’s work in cases involving civil rights, fair housing, and institutionalized discrimination.
Lisa Nesbitt, supervising attorney for DRNC’s Community Inclusion Team (CIT), virtually accepted the award at the 18th Annual Fair Housing Community Conference in Raleigh, which was sponsored by the Fair Housing Project and Raleigh’s Fair Housing Hearing Board. Nesbitt was quick to thank all DRNC staff for the recognition.
“This award is only possible because of the team approach DRNC takes toward all of its work. We work across teams and support each other to serve our clients in a holistic way to help meet whatever their needs are – housing, education, employment, litigation support, etc.,” Nesbitt said. “This award is really for everyone. Thank you.”
Housing victories for people with disabilities
DRNC’s housing clients are people who are harassed or threatened with eviction because they have needs related to their disabilities. Others live in homes that are not accessible to them.
Fair Housing Act applies to HOAs: Margaret’s story
Homeowners Associations (HOAs) often make life difficult for disabled people. Margaret called DRNC to help her with a dispute with her HOA. Margaret lived alone and had two dogs that she could no longer walk safely because of her significant physical disabilities. Instead, she was relying on relatives and paying others to walk them.
She had been trying to get permission from the HOA for the past year to put a small fenced area in her back yard so that she could let the dogs out on their own. The HOA denied her request and advised that a fence would be contrary to the HOA’s covenants.
We advised Margaret of her rights to a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act and helped her write a letter to the HOA board requesting an accommodation. The HOA’s attorney responded with a counter-proposal that would have drastically reduced the fenced area and required that she sign a contract they called an “accommodation agreement.”
The HOA had no legal right to condition the granting of a reasonable accommodation request upon our client signing a contract and we advised the HOA that our client would be moving forward with the project.
Margaret was successful. She built the fence for her dogs and was happy with the outcome. “Thank you so much. You gave me the courage to endure the fight,” she wrote. “Very little response from neighbors except my several close sister neighbors who think the fence is beautiful and are happy for us.”
Assistance Animals in Housing: John’ story
Animals also come up in housing issues around questions about rights to service and emotional animals.
John was one such person. The young man with autism was having problems with his landlord after he requested to have his emotional support animal live with him. The landlord denied the request because of a “no pets” policy and, instead, suggested that the young man and his mother move out.
DRNC staff explained to the landlord that the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on various protected classes, including disability. This discrimination includes refusing “to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person [with a disability] equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”
A common example of a reasonable accommodation under the FHA is to make an exception to a “no pets” policy to allow a person with a disability to have their service or emotional support animal live with them.
Service animals and emotional support animals are not considered “pets” under the FHA; they are animals that assist persons with disabilities. As such, tenants may have their assistance animal live with them and they cannot be charged for pet deposit fees, monthly pet fees, or any other type of fee associated with the assistance animal.
The landlord permitted John to have his emotional support animal live with him.
DRNC thanks LANC and their committed staff for this recognition. One of their attorneys even drove the award to Nesbitt’s house so she could hold it up to the camera while accepting the honor at the conference, a generous and thoughtful gesture.
Established in 2013, the award recognizes Adams for her steadfast advocacy in fair housing rights. Currently founder and CEO of SJ Adams Consulting in Durham, Adams has won numerous awards for her civil rights work focusing on fair housing, fair lending, diversity and environmental justice.