Posted By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Good news on this lovely Sunday!
Gary and Renee Kuhn, parents of Khrizma Kuhn, Woodburn, Oregon, recently contacted me to let me know that a federal Judge has ruled that McNary Estates Homeowners Association violated Fair Housing laws by denying the family a reasonable accommodation for their adult daughter, with multiple disabilities.
You may recall from previous reports in January and September of 2016, that McNary Estates HOA refused to allow the Kuhn family to park a specially-equipped RV in their driveway. The RV was needed to allow Khrizma access to toilet and shower facilities, as well as space to lie down while being transported for medical services or other family activities.
I am thrilled to report that the Kuhn family now feels welcome in their new Woodburn HOA community.
The reason this country has a Constitution and Civil Rights Acts with Fair Housing protections is because, sadly, there will always be people who will abuse their power and fail to do the right thing. The law is there to compel those who behave in ways that are self-serving or mean-spirited.
Unfortunately, the HOA indsutry promotes the idea that Associations governed under private contracts have every right to limit the rights of their members, with few limitations. Some HOAs, like McNary Estates, are run by leaders that continuously push the envelope on those limitations.
But of course, when any community, HOA or otherwise, has people with good hearts, they don’t need a judge or a regulatory agency to tell them they must treat others with respect and kindness.
To illustrate that point, I invite you ro read a hearfelt statement written by Renee Kunh, Khrizma’s mother. There’s an important lesson here. Perhaps even more important than enacting laws to protect our rights, we must challenge ourselves to change minds and hearts, so everyone may live in peace and feel welcome in their communities.
PERSONAL STORY/STATEMENT by Renee Kuhn, Woodburn, OR
It’s amazing how different our Woodburn HOA is from the McNary HOA which is only 15 minutes South of us. You would think that one is in a different country from the other. Literally! In the 10 years that we lived in McNary, only one neighbor ever asked about how Khrizma was doing, or walked up to say hello to her, when we had Khrizma out for a ride in our golf car, or surrey, for a little activity to enjoy a beautiful day.
By contrast, our next door neighbors in Woodburn, rush over to say hi to Khrizma when they see us pull into our driveway, and actually reach out their hand to help her step down, and out, of the RV safely! It brought a tear to my eye the first time that I saw this happen. Even though Khrizma is non-verbal, our new neighbors are comfortable talking to her, which shows that she is recognized as being a special and important part of the HOA community here.
Since the first week living here, neighbors have brought Khrizma baked goods and even gifts! No one has complained about Khrizma’s RV, monitored our behavior by sitting in their garage with a note pad, gathered in driveways pointing to us, sent us hurtful emails, assaulted my husband at the mailbox, or told untruths about us in order to force us to remove our daughter’s “lifeline to freedom” from our driveway.
We were aware that the Woodburn HOA had the same CC&R as McNary about not parking motorhomes on driveways for more than 24 hours, to load and unload only. In order to avoid a repeat of what had happened to us at McNary HOA, when inquiring about our possible new home in Woodburn, before ever making an offer, we asked Sandy Woods, Windermere Realty, about whether we could park the motorhome on the driveway, because our disabled daughter needed it due to medical reasons. We told Sandy that our daughter cannot leave her home unless she is transported in her motorhome, and told her that we had physician’s letters to document this. We just about dropped to our knees when Sandy Woods immediately, and without a moment’s hesitation, replied “yes, you would be allowed to override the CC&R and park the motorhome on your driveway,y because your daughter is a protected class person under the fair housing act.” Sandy then told us something we will never forget. She said, “we believe in being kind to our neighbors.” We had not spoken a single word to Sandy about how McNary had forced us out of our home due to the motorhome issue. The first time anyone in Woodburn knew that McNary had forced us out of our home, was one month after we had moved in, when we invited neighbors over for a hot chocolate party.
We were stunned that these words of Sandy’s flowed so confidently, compassionately and beautifully from her mouth! What? No fight needed? No attorneys needed? No stress or frustration experienced???!! Kindness, what’s that?!
Sandy then took our physician’s letters to the HOA president, Al Webster, along with a letter she secured from our neighbors that we share a driveway with, which stated that they would have no problem with the motorhome. Our neighbors even offered to let us pull onto their driveway to allow us to back into our parking spot for easy exiting when we needed to leave! Within 48 hours, Al Webster gave us a letter of approval stating that it was not only the “legal” thing to do to allow our motorhome to be parked on our driveway in spite of the CC&R, it was the “right” thing to do for our family! Al told us that the board could not wait for our daughter, and her motorhome, to move and become apart of the community! Unreal!
The ease and professionalism with which the Woodburn HOA handled our reasonable accommodation request, proved to us how discriminative the McNary HOA really was, beyond anything we realized prior to meeting Sandy Woods and Al Webster. The Woodburn HOA followed the fair housing act law exactly as they should have; they took our request seriously, brought all board members together immediately to discuss our request via email, conference meeting, sought out legal guidance, asked to see the motorhome to take some measurements, met our daughter and had a letter of approval in our hands all within 48 hours!
After Al went inside of the motorhome to meet Khrizma, he came back out, and gave me a big hug. He said, “I want to thank you for taking such good care of your daughter. I have also cared for a severely disabled person for a while in order to give her exhausted mother a break, so I know the hard work involved.” Gary and I will never forget Al’s acknowledgment of how hard we work for our daughter, or the heart-felt words that he shared with us that day.
The thing that the McNary board, and most of its residences are missing, is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of someone less fortunate than themselves. They are so self-consumed that they have absolutely no awareness of the suffering of others. They don’t realize that someday, they, too, may have bowel issues of their own, as they age. We can only hope to God that they have someone caring for them who is a much different person than who they are now.
Our daughter, at age 34, has the same physical needs as a person in their 80’s due to her disabilities. The majority of McNary residents are in their 70’s and 80’s, with one man living on our street being 93, and another woman 101! There was no excuse for these elderly people to not be able to understand Khrizma’s needs! I tried desperately to get our neighbors to understand that the federal law that allowed Khrizma to park a motorhome on her driveway, also protected them, should they have a medical need for support of any kind, no matter what CC&R existed. Long before we moved, I told all of our neighbors in a group email, that if the situation were reversed, that I would advocate for their right to be protected under the fair housing act, just as hard as I am fighting for our daughter’s right to be protected. I told them that our family was fighting to protect ALL McNary residents from a discriminative board. I even went so far as to copy language from HUD in that email as to who qualifies as a protected class person, so that they would know that a person doesn’t have to “look” like Khrizma, in order to qualify for a reasonable accommodation. I did this because I knew the McNary board never would.
From the moment our lawsuit was filed, all we ever heard from the McNary ownership, was that we were using our disabled daughter to get money in a lawsuit. These people were extremely misinformed of the facts of our case, and federal law that protects people like Khrizma, from people like many of those living in McNary HOA.
I even had to change my hair dresser because there was so much negative talk about our family there that I could not bear. The same thing was happening at my nail salon, but the owner does my nails, and has supported our family 100% from the beginning, so I felt protected and safe.
Our only goal in initiating this lawsuit was to achieve a federal ruling so that other families caring for a disabled or medically fragile person, who chose to live in an HOA and may need to park a motorhome or other large, disallowed vehicle on their driveway full time, will not have to go through what we experienced and be forced from their home.
On August 6, 2015, Teresa Girod’s board announced that they were going to seek a court order injunction to have our daughter’s motorhome removed from our driveway. Teresa then sent out an email the following day repeating this threat. We had no choice then but to put the for sale sign in our yard knowing that there was no saving McNary from itself. For 4.5 months, we, and the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, had tried to prevent a lawsuit from occurring. McNary could not be saved from their own ignorance, egos and discriminative attitude. This ruling, by a federal judge against McNary, is so sad and absolutely did not have to happen.
Teresa Girod stated in an email to the ownership that she wanted a “ruling” before allowing us to park the motorhome on our driveway. Well, sadly, Teresa, just got her ruling. Al Webster and Sandy Woods did not need a ruling to know what the legal and moral thing to do in our case was. That’s because both Al and Sandy Woods don’t approach life with a discriminative attitude. Al and Sandy respect federal fair housing law, and the disabled, and don’t waste precious time and resources trying to find ways to side-step around federal law.
Opinion and order, Kuhn v. McNary Estates