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Mitchell v. Walters

2010 WL 3614210 (U.S. Dist. Ct. D. N.J. 2010) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; DISCRIMINATION — A tenant who is a member of a protected class and does not allege that she or he was treated differently from tenants who are not members of that same class or that the landlord or its management company made remarks revealing an animosity toward that protected class, has no housing discrimination cause of action against the landlord.

An African American tenant in an apartment complex filed a federal law suit against the complex’s property manager and certain employees, chiefly alleging housing discrimination against her based on her race and physical disability. The tenant occupied a two-bedroom, 600 square foot, handicapped accessible unit. She received rental subsidies through a federal program. She was afflicted with arthritis and diabetes. After ten years of occupancy the tenant was told that she had to either vacate the apartment complex or move to a one-bedroom non-handicapped accessible apartment in the complex prior to the expiration of her lease. When she first moved into her unit, she lived there with her four year old grandson. This was documented on the lease agreement. The agreement provided that if the number of household members changed so as to conflict with the standards of the apartment complex, the household would be required to move away from the entire complex to an appropriate size unit within 30 days of a unit being available. The complex indicated that her household no longer met the minimum occupancy of two people for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the standards set for affordable housing. The tenant admitted that her grandson had moved out of her apartment to live with his mother.

The property manager and its certain employees moved to dismiss the tenant’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Court evaluated the tenant’s complaint under the federal Fair Housing Act. In part, the Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race or physical handicaps. The Court held that a viable claim under the Act must show the challenged actions were motivated by intentional discrimination or that the actions had a discriminatory effect on a protected class, regardless of motivation. It found the complaint did not contain facts that permitted a reasonable inference that the request to move was motivated by racial factors or because of the tenant’s arthritis and diabetes. For example, the tenant did not allege that she was treated differently from tenants who were not African American or not disabled, or that the property management company made remarks revealing a race-based animosity. Thus, the Court concluded that the tenant’s claims were not viable, and granted the motion to dismiss the complaint.

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