Feds settle housing-discrimination suit against Santa Rosa, HOA

SANTA ROSA -- The U.S. Justice Department today said it reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the city of Santa Rosa and La Esplanada Unit 1 Owners' Association over allegations of Fair Housing Act violations.

The settlement must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The lawsuit, filed on Nov. 21 in San Francisco, alleged that the city and the HOA unlawfully sought to restrict residency at a housing development to seniors 55 and older. While the law allows an exemption for senior housing, the suit alleged that neither the city nor the homeowners’ association took the steps, such as routine age verification, necessary to qualify for an exemption to the Fair Housing Act, the Justice Department said.

Under the settlement, the city of Santa Rosa will not take any enforcement action against the housing development to force it to exclude families with children, and will waive the estimated $12,500 in costs associated with any zoning changes that may be necessary to bring the city’s regulation of the property into compliance with federal law, according the the Justice Department.

Additionally,  when the city permits or requires a developer or property owner to operate senior housing, it will designate the age restriction of the zoned property in its ordinances and zoning maps, and require that property owners for these developments submit biennial age verifications for the city’s review and certification. The city will designate an agency to review and certify the biennial certifications, according to the Justice Department.

The homeowners’ association also will be prohibited from excluding families with children from the development unless it affirmatively elects to become an age-restricted community and conforms to the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. For example, the law requires ensuring that at least 80 percent of the occupied units are occupied by at least one person who is 55 or older and there are proper age-verification procedures in place.

In addition, the homeowners’ association will provide compensatory damages to the aggrieved persons in an amount of $44,000 by providing a set-off to amounts it has claimed it is owed by the aggrieved persons.

The lawsuit arose out of a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development by the owner and representative of a portion of the condominium development that was the subject of the defendants’ enforcement actions. After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination, and the matter was referred to the Justice Department.

The consent order also requires the homeowners’ association’s officers, agents and employees, as well as city employees and agents with responsibilities related to zoning and land use to receive fair-housing training, and requires the homeowners’ association and the city to pay $5,000 each to the United States as a civil penalty.


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