Settlement Reached in Federal Housing Lawsuit for Demand of Pregnancy Ultrasound Images

HOPE is pleased to announce joint settlements in January of 2019 in two federal lawsuits, concerning pregnancy and disability.

The first lawsuit involved multiple families in two Broward properties managed by the same company. In January 2018, HOPE was contacted by an expectant mother who lived at Sorrento Apartments in Miramar. Her lease was not being renewed because she had failed to disclose her pregnancy and had also failed to provide a doctor’s note confirming the pregnancy and an ultrasound picture. HOPE investigated, and in April 2018 filed a lawsuit with the assistance of attorney Matthew Dietz.

The case was featured on the media, locally and nationally, then three additional families contacted HOPE. One family had entered into a new lease at Sorrento, and disclosed that they too were expecting. They were advised that their lease would not be renewed because Sorrento “counts heartbeats per room,” and the new baby would exceed the number of people allowed per room. Further, they were denied the ability to transfer to a larger unit at that property or one at another complex.

Another family moved into Sorrento while the mother was five months pregnant. Management knew that she was pregnant and neither an ultrasound image nor doctor’s note was requested. Later, however, the family was questioned regarding the pregnancy and was then informed that their lease would not be renewed. Immediately after giving birth, the mother received a written non-renewal notice.

A fourth family lived in Monterra Apartments, a sister property to Sorrento. The couple was expecting and requested to be transferred to a two-bedroom unit. They were required to provide an ultrasound image and a letter from a physician. The family provided the information, but their request was denied because a child under two did not need her or his own bedroom, according to management. Each of these additional families joined in the first lawsuit.

The second lawsuit involved a disabled man who also lived at Sorrento. The man received a lease termination notice after he made a reasonable accommodation request (which was denied) to have his niece living with him as his caretaker, following his open heart surgery. The man was questioned by an assistant property manager who asked the man to prove his surgery by showing his scars. After constant harassment about his condition, the man moved out of Sorrento and lost his independence and housing opportunity.

In negotiating the settlement, HOPE addressed Fair Housing Act issues and the residents’ other housing rights. In addition to the payment of $270,000, the property owners and management will create and require non-discrimination agreements and employee acknowledgements thereof. Also, HOPE will provide fair housing training annually for five years to all staff.

Going forward, at lease signing, an applicant/tenant can only be asked to self-certify their familial status. All medical documentation previously obtained from tenants will be destroyed. Additionally, income eligible tenants may not be denied a larger unit based on a child being less than two years old.

Further, the sides agreed upon appropriate policies and practices for handling requests for reasonable accommodations and modifications, and the implementation of these policies will be reviewed. The defendant’s advertisements must now reflect diversity. Inspections cannot be: random, more often than annually, nor disguised as pest control work. Residents cannot be evicted nor denied lease renewal without good cause, and simple housekeeping and minor certification/recertification disclosure issues will not constitute good cause.

Often, residents in affordable housing developments are reluctant to challenge rules and practices of providers out of fear of losing their homes. The affordable housing supply in South Florida hardly meets the need, therefore the opportunities are precious. Loss of these opportunities would mean homelessness for many. We applaud the courage and tenacity of the families who came forward to take a stand to effectuate necessary change.