The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) announced that it has sued eight companies that operate 16 assisted living facilities in the Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe metro areas. The lawsuit alleges the companies discriminated against prospective elderly residents who have been deaf since birth and primarily communicate in American Sign Language (ASL). Primarily seniors occupy assisted living facilities.

In a series of phone calls and on-site visits conducted over the past 18 months by fair housing testers on behalf of NFHA, staff at each assisted living facility either refused to provide a potential elderly deaf resident with qualified ASL interpreters or other aids and services to ensure they would be able to communicate effectively, or said that interpretation services would be charged to the resident or the resident’s family, according to NFHA’s announcement. NFHA alleges that these acts are a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing providers, including assisted living facilities, from discriminating against people with disabilities. The US Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey found that 14.8% of people over the age of 65 have a hearing disability.

Fair housing laws provide distinct protections for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These consumers have the right to interpreters or other aids to ensure they can effectively communicate with housing providers.

“Assisted living facilities that deprive people of their rights are unnecessarily exacerbating housing challenges for those who are most at-risk in our society,” said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of NFHA. She continued, “Especially at a time when elderly people are among those most vulnerable to COVID-19, it is critical that the people charged with their care do all they can to provide them with the legally required services they need to ensure their health and well-being. For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, that includes ASL interpreters or other effective communication aids. We are filing these actions in court to hold these companies accountable.”

In 2013, NFHA and 11 of its member fair housing organizations investigated 117 national or regional rental firms in 98 cities and 25 states and discovered “sustained patterns of housing discrimination against apartment seekers who were deaf or hard of hearing.”

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, according to NFHA. Also, 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 hardship on the provider.

Examples of discriminatory conduct contained in the eight different lawsuits filed today 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 resident or the resident’s family would pay for those services;
  • The facility’s recommendation that the resident’s family use a senior living placement service to find a senior living facility that better fits the needs of a potential resident;
  • The facility’s statement that it would not be a good fit for the prospective deaf resident; 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 ASL service, the resident may have to pay half of the charges.

The lawsuits were filed against Brookdale Senior Living, Spectrum Retirement Communities, Pacifica Senior Living, LifeSpire Assisted Living, LeisureCare, and BeeHive Homes. These companies operate the 16 facilities (full list below) investigated by NFHA in New Mexico and Utah, covering over 1,100 beds. Brookdale Senior Living is the “largest assisted living provider in the country” with control of over 41,485 assisted living units nationwide. BeeHive Homes operates over 170 facilities in 20 states.

New Mexico Assisted Living Facilities:

BeeHive Homes of Albuquerque
BeeHive Homes of White Rock
BeeHive Homes of Bernalillo
BeeHive Homes of Santa Fe
BeeHive Homes of Enchanted Hills
BeeHive Homes of Rio Rancho #1
BeeHive Homes of Rio Rancho #2
Brookdale Tramway Ridge
Brookdale Santa Fe
Fairwinds Rio Rancho
LifeSpire Assisted Living Albuquerque
Pacifica Senior Living Santa Fe
Palmilla Senior Living

Utah Assisted Living Facilities:
BeeHive Homes of Lehi
Leisure Care Treeo – Orem
Leisure Care Treeo – South Ogden

“We strongly support the protection of fair housing rights, which are always under attack, especially the rights of deaf persons,” said Diana Dorn-Jones, Executive Director of United South Broadway Corporation, an Albuquerque-based community development agency focused on fair housing and fair lending in the State of New Mexico. “We stand firmly behind the National Fair Housing Alliance in its actions to litigate fair housing laws whenever necessary.”

NFHA is represented by Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, and by Jared Allebest of Allebest Law Group PLLC as co-counsel for the Utah complaints. The lawsuits were filed in the United States District Court for the District of Utah and the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. One of the complaints is available here.

Source: NFHA