Fair Housing Claim Against Homeowner Association Director Allowed by District of Columbia Appeals Court

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ruled that a board member of a homeowners association may be personally liable for violating the disability discrimination provisions of the fair housing laws by delaying action on a homeowner’s request for a reasonable accommodation in the enforcement of the association’s leasing restrictions.

When  homeowners leased  their home to a non-profit organization for occupancy by recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, the association board asked the homeowners to terminate the lease because it violated the HOA bylaws which prohibited leasing to anyone not named in lease and prohibited subleasing.   After it received a request for waiver of the bylaw restrictions as a reasonable accommodation based on the disabilities of the sub-tenants, the HOA board approved the lease.

Unhappy with the action of the board in approving the lease,  another owner–who was also a board member and the association secretary– filed suit against the owners alleging the lease violated the leasing restrictions in the bylaws.  The suit requested an injunction to stop the leasing and also requested monetary damages.

The owners who were leasing their home filed a countersuit, which alleged that the objecting owner–as HOA secretary– violated the fair housing laws by failing to promptly provide the association attorney with the request for an accommodation by wavier of the lease restrictions.  This allegedly delayed the board response to the accommodation request for several months.

The owners also claimed that the suit to enforce the leasing restrictions was retaliatory based on the disability of the tenants and was, therefore, a violation of the fair housing laws which prohibit retaliation against persons requesting disability accommodations.

The trial court ruled that neither the  suit or countersuit should be allowed.  Because the association had approved the lease, the objecting owner could not seek to enforce the bylaw restrictions and  the fair housing violations were moot, according to the trial court.

On appeal, the District of Columbia appeals court reversed the trial court and allowed both the suit and countersuit to proceed to trial.  The court did not rule on the merits of the claims.

However, in allowing the suit for fair housing violations to proceed, the court ruled that, even though the objecting board member was only a single member of the board and did not have the authority to prevent the lease for disabled tenants, he could be individually liable if , in that capacity or otherwise, he personally committed or contributed  to a violation of the fair housing laws. 

Additionally, the appeals court ruled that an individual owner could seek to enforce the bylaw occupancy and sublet restrictions even though the association board of directors had decided to allow the lease as a reasonable accommodation and was not seeking to enforce the restrictions.

Therefore, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals returned the case to the trial court to allow both the bylaw enforcement claims and the fair housing claims to proceed to trial.

Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives in Maryland -– including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, Frederick County, and Baltimore County; and in Baltimore City and Washington, D.C.

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