I have two announcements today, both for Fayette County folks, and a Fair Housing update.
JURY TRIALS POSTPONED
First, all jury trials in Fayette County have been postponed until February. So, if you have a forcible detainer jury trial scheduled for November, December, or January, it has been postponed and you will get a new court date.
NO IN-PERSON EVICTIONS DURING NOVEMBER
Second, evictions in Fayette County will be done remotely during the month of November. That means if you have an eviction scheduled this month, you will need to contact the Fayette District Judges’ Office at (859) 246-2247 within one (1) hour prior to your hearing to get instructions on how to appear remotely. If you used an attorney to file your case, your attorney will get the instructions for you. Typically, this just involves getting a ZOOM link.
Any party that cannot participate in a remote hearing due to a technology limitation will have their case continued for one month.
So, the good news is that the courts are not shutting down. The bad news is that things are getting further delayed. We’ll see how things play out and continue to make adjustments.
FAIR HOUSING UPDATE
While our attention for most 2020 has been directed at the eviction situation, HUD has continued to file Housing Discrimination lawsuits against rental owners and managers who, in their estimation, cross the line on Fair Housing issues. In the month of October, HUD announced several new cases that will serve as good reminders to us about best practices. Here’s one that is instructive during this time when many are considering non-renewing leases as a work-around during the eviction moratorium.
HUD v. Labonte – Assistance Animals. The property had a no-pet policy. Several months into the tenancy, the tenant notified the manager that he was considering getting an assistance dog to help him deal with both physical and emotional issues.
The manager told the tenant she did not want pets in the property and asked him to wait until his lease expired before getting the dog. She then offered him the use of her daughter’s dog, which lived in a different building, and instructed him to look for alternative housing.
The tenant ultimately provided a letter to the manager from his doctor stating the tenant’s need for the dog due to his disability. The manager responded that the dog would need to be trained and certified and that the tenant would need to pay a deposit.
The tenant made a formal written request for permission to have the assistance dog without any training or charges. The manager never responded to the letter, so the tenant proceed to get the dog anyway.
Two months before the lease ended, the manager began attempting to lease the tenant’s unit. The next month she gave the tenant a notice that he should move-out when his lease expired because his unit had been re-rented.
HUD filed suit on the tenant’s behalf seeking that the tenant be paid for his actual damages, including lost-housing opportunity, physical and emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation, as well as seeking a civil penalty of $16,000.00 against the manager for each violation of the Fair Housing Act. You can read HUD’s full complaint here.
Lessons – There are two sides to every story, and HUD’s charge only tells their side of the story. While there are lots of lessons to learn here, I want to focus on two big-picture lessons:
- Fair Housing violations can be very, very costly. This landlord will pay five figures to deal with this case and six figures if she loses. That makes erring on the side of caution in terminating tenancies very important.
- The defense of “I’m not going to renew your lease and I don’t have to give you a reason” is very risky, especially if the tenant has been asserting certain rights during the tenancy. If HUD feels that a tenant’s lease was not renewed for a discriminatory purpose or in retaliation for asserting legitimate rights, they will file a housing discrimination complaint against you. Be very cautious and obtain legal counsel when deciding on whether to non-renew such leases.
So, I won’t be seeing you in court this month, so be sure to reach out to me if you have questions. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.