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Rights group sues real estate firm for disability discrimination

Most commercial property owners in Michigan know that they must abide by all state and federal housing laws in order to continue lawful operation of their establishment. In all cases, this includes the federal Fair Housing Act which prohibits a property owner from discriminating against an applicant based on any of the categories mentioned in the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and includes disabilities as well. But the crash of the housing market brought an influx of property owners and real estate firms who may not be familiar with all of the applicable laws.

That very well could have been the case for Scio Farms Estates which was sued recently by two parties that claimed that the firm had discriminated against applicants with developmental disabilities. According to the complaint, Scio Farms Estates not only was inconsistent with its application process but made it impossible for people with disabilities to rent one of the company's properties.

The lawsuit was brought against Scio Farms Estates by two parties, the first being Renaissance Community Homes, a nonprofit organization that helps developmentally disabled adults find housing.  According to the lawsuit, the nonprofit's lease applications had been denied twice, citing that because Renaissance Community Homes was listed on the lease but would not be living as the tenant at the residence then Scio Farms Estates would not allow the application to go through.

The second party named on the lawsuit was the Fair Housing Center, also a nonprofit organization that investigates complaints about civil rights violations when it comes to the sale, financing or renting of a property.  After sending several people out to investigate Scio Farms Estates' policies and procedures, the Fair Housing Center determined that the real estate firm was in violation of the Fair Housing Act and subsequently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A settlement was recently reached over the landlord-tenant dispute, awarding the two parties $39,500, $30,000 of which went to Renaissance Community Homes.  Scio Farms Estates must follow through with its promise to retrain its staff on fair housing laws and will be monitored by the Fair Housing Center for compliance.

Source: annarbor.com, "Rights group lands $39.5K settlement after calling out Scio Farms Estates' policies as discriminatory," Amy Biolchini, June 28, 2013

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