Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 4, 2011

Fed. Dist Court Finds City’s Senior Mobile Home Park Overlay Zone Violates Fair Housing Act

Owners and managers of a 201-unit mobile-home park (collectively, “plaintiffs”), challenged a series of ordinances enacted by the defendant, the City of American Canyon (“the City”), claiming that the ordinances forced plaintiffs to discriminate based on familial status in violation of the Fair Housing Act.  When plaintiffs assumed ownership in 2005, they conducted due diligence to ensure the park’s compliance with all applicable laws.  This process led plaintiffs to discover that the park had no records verifying that at least eighty percent of its residences were over the age of 55, which conflicted with the 1988-issued park rules that had established the park as a “park for older persons.”  Therefore, plaintiffs sought to synchronize the park rules with its continuing operation as an all-age park.  Upon receiving notice of plaintiffs’ intent to change the rules, the City enacted a series of moratoria which prohibited “conversion” of a senior park to an all-age park.  

Meanwhile, plaintiffs launched a series of attempts to continue the conversion, and the City conducted a survey of park residents that revealed that ninety-one percent of the park’s homes housed at least one senior. Consequently, the City attempted to maintain senior residency status in areas where seniors comprised over eighty percent of residents by adopting a Senior Mobile Home Park Overlay Zone.  

Plaintiffs argued that the park had never operated as a senior park, so in reality, there was nothing to “convert.”  In plaintiffs’ view, they merely sought to change the rules so that they are consistent with the park’s actual practices, but were forbidden from doing so by the City’s unlawful ordinances.  The City, on the other hand, claimed that the ordinances simply protect what has always operated as a senior park from conversion and comply with federal law.  The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on “familial status,” essentially, discriminating against a parent or custodial guardian who is domiciled with a minor.  However, housing for older persons receives an exemption under the FHA and if developments meet certain criteria they may discriminate based on familial status.  

The court found the City violated of the FHA because the ordinances forced plaintiffs to discriminate based on the park’s status as a senior park even though plaintiffs had not met the requisite criteria to qualify for the older-persons exemption under the FHA.  This exposed plaintiffs to litigation for violating the FHA, when they are merely attempting to end an ongoing violation of the same.  The City failed to show plaintiffs’ intent to provide housing for persons fifty-five or older, as required by U.S.C. 3607(b)(2)(C).  Without that intent, plaintiffs could not possibly qualify for the senior housing exemption and therefore any discrimination based on familial status was blatantly illegal.  The court granted injunctive relief to plaintiffs, enjoining the applicable ordinances for violation of Sections 3604(a), 3604(b), 3613(c)(1), 3615, and 3617 of the FHA. 

Waterhouse v. City of American Canyon, 2011 WL 2197977 (N.D.Cal., 6/6/2011).

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