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AG’s office resolves Manassas housing discrimination case

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Two Manassas-area landlords are being held accountable for alleged housing discrimination that occurred when they refused to rent based on disability, imposed discriminatory terms and conditions based on disability, and made discriminatory statements that indicate discrimination based on disability.

The alleged discriminatory acts occurred after the landlords terminated the lease of a tenant with mental health challenges after she asked for her therapist or caseworker to be present during any in-person interactions with the landlords.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s Office of Civil Rights assisted the Virginia Fair Housing Office on this case.

“Virginia tenants with disabilities deserve to be treated the same as any other tenants, without the fear of being discriminated against or treated poorly by their landlords,” Herring said. “Demeaning and outdated stereotypes about Virginians with mental illness have no place in housing transactions or frankly anywhere else in the Commonwealth. I hope this sends a strong message to all Virginia landlords that discrimination against tenants will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth, and if they choose to discriminate against any Virginian, they will be held accountable. I want to thank my Office of Civil Rights for their hard work on this and other important housing discrimination cases.”

The tenant rented a condominium unit from Gia and Ernest Hairston in the summer of 2018 and told Mr. Hairston that she lived with a mental health condition that was currently under control. After she moved in, she made several requests for repairs to the unit, including the lack of air conditioning on very hot days.

Mr. Hairston became increasingly frustrated with the tenant’s maintenance requests and began to demean her by telling her, for example, that “any adult” would know better and that she was “being difficult” and “being a problem.” Mr. Hairston told the tenant that her maintenance concerns were “all in her head.”

To diffuse the tension and document repair requests—not because of her mental health challenges—the tenant asked that anytime the Hairstons came to the unit, that the tenant’s therapist or caseworker be present. While Mr. Hairston initially agreed, later the same day, the Hairstons terminated the tenant’s lease, giving her 90 days to move.

Mr. Hairston explained that the reason for the termination was because the tenant had “special needs” and couldn’t “understand, cope, or compromise.” Specifically, he stated: “[Y]ou needing to be with your therapist to talk to us whether through text, email or in person to handle business is a special accommodation whether you think it is or not. Adults and people that function normally without special needs don’t require that that type of accommodation. It’s ok that you have these special needs. We just can’t accommodate you. You will be a problem for us. So it’s best you move. […] You have a hard time understanding, coping and compromising. It’s best we just part ways as soon as possible.”

The tenant moved out and filed a complaint of housing discrimination. After an investigation by the Virginia Fair Housing Office, the Fair Housing Board found reasonable cause to believe that the Hairstons had illegally discriminated against her.

Attorneys from the Office of Civil Rights represented the Commonwealth’s interests during the conciliation process. The parties were able to agree on a resolution without further litigation.

As part of the agreement, the Hairstons must attend fair housing training annually for three years, adopt non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation policies if they become landlords again within three years, and pay the tenant $60,000 as compensation.

The Hairstons will also donate $1,500 to Action in Community Through Service, a Manassas non-profit selected by the tenant.

augusta free press
augusta free press