In Saint Pierre v. NFG Housing Partners, LP (November 2021), the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not applicable to privately owned apartment communities. This is due to the fact that such communities are neither providing a governmental service nor do they meet the definition of a public accommodation.
Lorraine Saint Pierre is a tenant as a subsidized housing complex for seniors (“Northfield Green”) owned by a private partnership and managed by a private management company.
Saint Pierre has a severe hearing disability and received several noise complaints from a neighbor with whom she shared a wall. Saint Pierre’s response to the complaints was to request that the owner blow insulation into that wall, which was denied. She also claimed that her apartment also has mold caused by standing water on the adjacent grounds, which seeps into the foundation of the building, aggravating her disability. Saint Pierre informed management of the issue in writing, with supporting documentation from her doctor, but the mold problem was not addressed.
Saint Pierre filed an administrative complaint against the owners and management with the Maine Human Rights Commission (“MHRC”). In September 2021, MHRC dismissed the administrative complaint, saying that it had “not found reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful discrimination had occurred.” In October 2021, Saint Pierre filed the federal action.
The Magistrate ruled that the complaint alleged sufficient facts to support the resident’s claim under the federal Fair Housing Act and Maine’s fair housing laws. However, her claims under the ADA failed.
As to the ADA claims, the Magistrate noted that under the ADA: “Title I prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in employment; Title II prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in public services furnished by governmental entities; Title III prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in public accommodations provided by private entities; Title IV prohibits retaliation and coercion against disabled persons who exercise their rights under the ADA.” In this case, the defendants are private corporations, and the apartment complex does not fall within the definition of a public accommodation. Court cases have consistently held that residential facilities such as apartments and condominiums are not considered public accommodations under the ADA. Examples of public accommodations are restaurants, hotels, theatres, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and daycare centers. Such facilities – even if privately owned – are subject to the ADA.
This case once again makes clear that for private apartment communities, there is no such thing as an “ADA unit.” While units in private apartment communities that were built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, are generally required to comply with the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the ADA simply does not apply. Keep in mind, however, that under Title II of the ADA, public housing is subject to the requirements of the ADA.
Also, housing communities with federal assistance, such as Section 8 and HOME funds are subject to the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Low-income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties do not receive direct federal assistance and are therefore not subject to Section 504.
Property owners are responsible for understanding the disability-related laws that apply to their property, but in general, for most privately owned housing, this does not include either the ADA or Section 504.