Mike McGinn, Mayor
4/13/2005 5:00:00 PM
Elliott Bronstein (206) 684-4507
Fair Housing Ruling Allows Dying Woman to Keep Housing
Quick action by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights has helped a dying Seattle resident remain in her home.
When Jennifer Howlett received a 20-day lease-termination notice in February from her landlord, she didn’t know where to turn. Ms. Howlett is in the final stage of terminal colon cancer, and is not physically able to relocate.
Ms. Howlett filed a fair housing complaint with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) alleging discrimination on the basis of a disability. The building owner had claimed that she wanted to move into the unit herself, a valid reason for lease termination under state law. When the deadline passed for Ms. Howlett to move out, the owner filed a court action to evict her, and the case was ordered to trial.
At the same time, SOCR issued a finding of unlawful discrimination, following an expedited investigation. City investigators discovered that the owner had told three separate individuals that she didn’t want a tenant to die in her building. Under fair housing law, it is illegal to evict someone based on a disability such as a life-threatening illness.
With a trial date looming, SOCR negotiated a settlement between Ms. Howlett and the owner that guarantees Ms. Howlett’s right to remain in her apartment for the duration of her illness. The settlement also required the landlord to pay Ms. Howlett $2,000 and to attend fair housing training at a later date.
“Our investigation turned up direct evidence of the landlord’s intention to force Ms. Howlett out of her home because of her disability,” said Angela Dawson-Milton, SOCR’s Enforcement Manager. “Because of the egregious nature of the violation, we insisted that the settlement include a cash penalty that compensates Ms. Howlett both for out-of-pocket expenses as well as pain and suffering.”
Ms. Howlett will receive the full amount of the financial settlement. She plans to donate the money to PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Had the case gone to a Hearing Examiner, the likely judgment against the landlord would have been over $20,000.
“The urgency of the situation made this a difficult case,” said Germaine W. Covington, Director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. “Our office worked closely with the City Attorney’s Office to come up with a reasonable and just solution. April is national Fair Housing Month, and we think this is a good example of why fair housing laws matter to all of us.”
2005 marks the 37th anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, which ensures that all people can obtain the housing of their choice, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or family status.
If you believe you have been the victim of illegal discrimination, call the Seattle Office for Civil Rights at 206-684-4500 (TTY 206-684-4503), or find SOCR on the Web at www.seattle.gov/civilrights.
“Everyone told me, ‘You can’t fight the landlord,’” said Jennifer Howlett. “I felt beaten up by the unfairness of it all. I am just so grateful for being able to stay in my own home.”
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