The Justice Department today announced a settlement resolving allegations that the town of St. John, Ind., violated the Fair Housing Act when it denied a petition for a zoning variance based on the disability of a prospective resident.
In a lawsuit filed in September 2007, the U.S. government charged that the town of St. John intentionally discriminated against persons with disabilities when it refused to provide a St. John resident a variance to allow one unrelated individual with multiple sclerosis to live with the resident in his home. The complaint also alleged that the requested variance was reasonable and necessary to afford prospective residents with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling in a residential neighborhood in St. John. Under the town's zoning regulations at that time, unrelated persons could not live together in a dwelling in a single-family district. After the town denied the variance, the resident filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
"Local governments have the right to enforce their zoning laws, but they cannot allow their zoning decisions to be influenced by discriminatory bias," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department will continue to vigorously enforce the rights of persons with disabilities to live in homes of their choice."
"The path to diverse, inclusive communities begins with zoning," said Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "HUD works in partnership with the Department of Justice to respond to local government decisions that can sometimes exclude whole classes of persons from communities."
The settlement, which must still be approved by the court, requires the town to grant the requested variance, provide training on fair housing laws to town officials involved in making zoning and land-use decisions and provide periodic reports to the Justice Department. The town will also pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the United States.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line (1-800-896-7743), email the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.