The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) has filed suit against eight companies that operate 16 assisted living facilities in the Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe metropolitan areas. The suits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah and the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico and allege that the companies are discriminating against prospective elderly residents who have been deaf since birth and primarily communicate in American Sign Language (ASL).
In a series of phone calls and on-site visits conducted by fair housing testers over an 18-month period, staff at each assisted living facility either refused to provide a potential elderly deaf resident with a qualified ASL interpreter or other aids and services to ensure they would be able to communicate effectively or said that interpretation services would be charged to the applicant or the applicant’s family.
Fair housing law provides distinct protections for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. One protection is the right to interpreters or other aids to ensure they can effectively communicate with housing providers.
Housing providers may not refuse a reasonable accommodation request from a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to have important information communicated through ASL or other effective auxiliary aids. Housing providers are required to provide interpretation services to people who are deaf or hard of hearing free of charge unless doing so would place an undue financial and administrative burden on the provider.
Examples of discriminatory conduct contained in the eight lawsuits include:
- The facility’s flat refusal to provide an ASL interpreter;
- The facility’s provision that it would allow an interpreter, but only if the applicant or the applicant’s family would pay for those services;
- The facility’s recommendation that the applicant’s family use a senior living placement service to find a senior living facility that better served the needs of the potential resident;
- The facility’s statement that it would not be a good fit for the prospective deaf applicant; and
- The facility’s statement that, while it had access to ASL resources, it could not guarantee the service would be available on a continual basis and that, if there were costs associated with the service, the resident may have to pay half the charges.
The lawsuits have been filed against
- Brookdale Senior Living;
- Spectrum Retirement Communities;
- Pacifica Senior Living;
- LifeSpire Assisted Living;
- LeisureCare; and
- BeeHive Homes.
These companies operate 16 facilities investigated by NFHA in New Mexico and Utah and provide over 1,100 beds.
This case is a strong reminder of the responsibility of housing providers relative to reasonable accommodation requests. When such requests are necessary due to a disability, and do not result in an undue financial burden or fundamentally alter how a property will operate, the accommodation must be granted and the housing provider must pay the cost of the accommodation.