A Fair Housing victory with Constitutional implications for association-governed communities
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
On November 30, 2017, a Texas Appellate Court issued an important ruling with regard to accommodation of two privately operated homes for disabled residents. Those homes just so happened to be located in a homeowners’ association.
The case began in 2013, when Capella Park Homeonwers’ Association filed a lawsuit against Willie E. Walls III and Melody Hanson, operators of My Royal Palace, a for-profit housing program serving disabled individuals.
The HOA argued that its Covenants and Restrictions prohibit use of properties for commercial purposes. Walls and Hanson countersued, citing violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act and Amendment of 1988, as well as the Texas Fair Housing Act.
The Texas Fair Housing Act requires automatic accommodation of Group Homes for the disabled that are owned and operated by government or nonprofit entities.
My Royal Palace is a for-profit business that provides residential services to individuals with disabilities. Therefore, Capella Park HOA argued that the Texas Fair Housing Act does not apply.
According to Judge Schenck’s opinion (referenced below), the HOA attorney used the classic argument that disabled residents David Wayne Whitaker and Ashuntis Grisby were free to live in some other community that is not subject to restrictive covenants.
The lower court agreed with Capella Park HOA.
The Plaintiffs appealed, and the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision, essentially ruling that restrictive covenants cannot have the effect of ignoring the intent of federal and state Fair Housing Acts.
Judge Schenck writes:
Appeals court rules Capella Park HOA must accommodate disabled residents
by Sara McCleary | Dec. 12, 2017, 1:46pm
DALLAS – The Court of Appeals for the 5th District of Texas has reversed a trial court’s decision that was in favor of a homeowners’ association (HOA) trying to enforce its restrictive covenants against a home for disabled residents.
The decision, filed Nov. 30, found that Willie E. Walls III and Melody Hanson, the operators of My Royal Palace, a for-profit residential program, along with their residents, David Wayne Whitaker and Ashuntis Grisby, should be accommodated by exempting the group home from the applicable parts of the HOA’s Restrictive Covenant.
A copy of the Appellate ruling can be viewed and downloaded here.
Willie E. Walls, III, Melody Hanson, and My Royal Palace, David Wayne Whitaker and Ashuntis Grisby v. Capella Park Homeowners’ Association, Inc. Appeal from 162nd Judicial District Court of Dallas County (memorandum opinion)
The ruling raises some important considerations regarding the rights of association-governed communities to enforce certain restrictive covenants (CC&Rs) that are:
a) facially unconstitutional,
or that, by way of their strict enforcement,
b) ignore the intent of both federal and state Constitutions to uphold inalienable rights of residents, particularly private property rights and civil liberties.
The 5th District Court of Texas has ruled that a resident purchasing services from a private service provider is still entitled to accommodation rights under the Fair Housing Act.
By extension, all homeowners and residents purchase services of a private organization such as an HOA, directly (by way of assessments) or indirectly (by way of rent payments).
Yet the HOA industry has argued repeatedly that owners and residents of association-governed communities can lawfully “agree” to restrict or waive certain Constitutional rights by way of restrictive covenants tied directly to the titles or deeds of private property.
If persons with disabilities are not forced to surrender Constitutional rights applicable to Fair Housing Acts, why are non-disabled U.S. residents of homeowners, condo, and co-op associations expected to surrender some of their Constitutional rights?
Put another way, must a resident of housing in a private community be required to exhibit some kind of disability in order to expect accommodation of his or her right to equal enjoyment of private property, and protection of basic civil liberties?