Michael Barbarula Obtain Dismissal of Fair Housing-Reasonable Accommodation Claim

February 26, 2016

RRD Associate Michael Barbarula recently obtained the dismissal of a claim brought against their client by a tenant accusing them of failing to provide a reasonable accommodation in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and its Connecticut counterpart.

The plaintiff asserted that he suffered from alcoholism and a physical illness rendering him disabled.  The plaintiff suffered a relapse of his alcoholism and fell behind on his rent. RRD’s client terminated the plaintiff’s lease for non-payment and brought a summary process eviction proceeding in state housing court.  Ultimately, the parties entered into a stipulated judgment that required the plaintiff to make his monthly rental payments as well as payments on the arrearage.  The plaintiff failed to comply with his obligations under the agreement.  As a result, RRD’s client sought to proceed with the eviction.  The plaintiff claims that he asked for a reasonable accommodation, to suspend the eviction proceeding because of his disability.  When RRD’s client denied his request, the plaintiff sued.

This lawsuit was initially filed in the housing court in Connecticut, but RRD removed the case to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the plaintiff failed to state a plausible cause of action under the Fair Housing Act because his request was not a reasonable accommodation, as it sought to have RRD’s client to refrain from collecting rent and seeking an eviction for an indeterminate period of time.  The plaintiff argued that the suspension of the eviction proceeding was a reasonable accommodation because of his disability.  Ultimately, Judge Stefan Underhill agreed with RRD’s argument, finding that the Fair Housing Act did not require the defendant to forego eviction proceedings because the plaintiff could not make his rental payments.  Judge Underhill noted that while the Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for renters’ disabilities, it does not undermine the nature of their transaction or so fundamentally alter their relationship that it removes eviction as a remedy for nonpayment of rent.