Region Eight Housing charged with fair housing violation

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is suing Region VIII and Sun Belt Management Company and Oakridge Park Apartments.

HUD says the suit comes after a disabled Biloxi woman was denied an available first-floor apartment.

HUD says Mary Waltman applied for rental assistance under the Section 8 housing program, where she documented her need for a first floor apartment but was given a second floor unit under the conditions that she would be transferred when a first floor unit became available.

HUD claims Waltman fell several times going up the stairs to her apartment.

HUD also says that when a first floor apartment became available, Oakridge Apartments leased it to a person who was not disabled. Employees of the apartment complex told Waltman she would have to wait a year to transfer.

The denial prompted Ms. Waltman to move out of the apartment and to file a complaint with HUD.  Read the official press release from HUD below.


     WASHINGTON - The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it has charged the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority, No. VIII (MRHA), of Gulfport, Sun Belt Management Company, Inc., and Oakridge Park Apartments, Ltd., in Biloxi, with denying a disabled resident an available first-floor apartment, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

     The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations when such accommodation may be necessary to afford a person with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

     Mary Waltman has physical disabilities that severely limit her ability to walk and climb stairs. When Ms. Waltman applied for rental assistance to participate in MRHA's Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8), she documented her need for a first-floor apartment. Ms. Waltman agreed to accept a second-floor apartment at Oakridge Park with the understanding that she would be transferred to a first-floor apartment when one became available.  

     During her tenancy, Ms. Waltman fell several times, trying to negotiate the stairs to her unit. When a first-floor apartment became available, Ms. Waltman asked to be moved to the first-floor apartment.  The respondents denied Ms. Waltman's request to move, stating she had to remain in her original unit for a full year before she could transfer.  Instead, Oakridge Park Apartment leased the first-floor unit to a new tenant who did not have a disability.  The denial prompted Ms. Waltman to move out of the apartment and to file a complaint with HUD.

     Kim Kendrick, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said, "One in five Americans has a disability. It's important that property managers, landlords, and other housing providers, including housing authorities, understand that the Fair Housing Act requires them to make reasonable accommodations that afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.  No person with a disability should have to endure what Ms. Waltman was subjected to."

     The HUD charge will be heard by an administrative law judge if no party elects to have the case heard in federal court.  The ALJ may award damages to the complainant for actual damages as a result of the alleged discrimination, including damages for emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of civil rights. The judge may also order injunctive and other equitable relief to prevent further discrimination. Additionally, the judge may impose a maximum civil penalty of $16,000 for each violation for a first offense and order payment of attorneys' fees. Penalties greater than $16,000 may be assessed if a respondent has a history of housing discrimination.