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Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago v. Prewitt

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 29, 2015

ACCESS LIVING OF METROPOLITAN CHICAGO, Plaintiff,
v.
BILL PREWITT, d/b/a/ BEST RENTS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Bill Prewitt, d/b/a/Best Rents', ("Best Rents'") motion to dismiss Plaintiff Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago's ("Access Living's") complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (R.10, Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss.) Specifically, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff has failed to satisfactorily plead a cause of action under the Fair Housing Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

Access Living is a center for independent living that helps persons with disabilities acquire housing in Chicago. (R.1, Pl.'s. Compl., ¶ 2-3.)[1] Access Living is also a qualified fair housing enforcement organization pursuant to 24 C.F.R. § 125.103 and conducts tests on housing providers to assess compliance with the Fair Housing Act. ( Id. ¶¶ 3, 7.) Best Rents is a property management business owned by Bill Prewitt, based in the Chicago area. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Mr. Prewitt owns a three-bedroom apartment located at 3251 S. Wood Street, Chicago, Illinois 60608 (the "Wood Apartment"). ( Id. ) Access Living conducted a fair housing test of the Wood Apartment at the center of this dispute. ( Id. ) Access Living brought this action against Best Rents on March 10, 2015. ( See R.1.)

I. Access Living's Fair Housing Test of Best Rents

On March 13, 2013, Access Living conducted a fair housing test designed to determine whether Best Rents would provide equal treatment to home seekers with disabilities and those without disabilities after receiving telephone inquiries. ( See R.1, ¶ 22.) The test involved two callers: a "Non-Disabled tester" and a "Deaf tester". ( Id. ) Best Rents advertised the Wood Apartment in the Chicago Reader and provided a phone number and website. The advertisement described the Wood Apartment as a three-bedroom apartment located at the intersection of Archer and Wood in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. ( Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.)

The Non-disabled tester was directed to call the housing provider on a regular phone, while the Deaf tester was instructed to call the housing provider using IP Relay. ( Id. ¶ 23.) IP Relay is an internet-based Telecommunication Relay Service ("TRS") that allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate by telephone. ( Id. ¶¶ 12, 17.) IP Relay requires a third party to read the deaf caller's typed text to the recipient of the call and transcribe the recipient's replies back to the deaf caller. ( Id. ¶¶ 12-17.) This process (and other, similar TRS processes) takes additional time and effort. ( See id. ¶¶ 14-20.)

A. The Non-Disabled Tester's Experience

The Non-Disabled tester called Best Rents at the number listed on Best Rents' website. ( Id. ¶ 24.) The Non-Disabled tester initially reached a voicemail recording, but did not leave a message. ( Id. ) Upon trying a second time, the Non-Disabled tester reached Best Rents and spoke with a person named Bill. ( Id. ¶ 24-25.) The Non-Disabled tester asked if the Wood Apartment was available, and Bill replied that it was. ( Id. ¶ 25.) Bill asked how many people would be living there, to which the Non-Disabled tester replied her inquiry was for her husband and herself. ( Id. ) Bill asked why they needed three bedrooms, to which the Non-Disabled tester replied that she would like an office and a guest room. ( Id. ) Bill then directed the Non-Disabled tester to view a video of the Wood Apartment on the Best Rents website and informed her of a showing that coming Saturday. ( Id. )

B. The Deaf Tester's Experience

Just a few hours prior to the Non-Disabled tester's call, a Deaf tester called Best Rents- using IP Relay-at the number listed in the Chicago Reader advertisement. ( Id. ¶ 26.) The Deaf tester reached a voicemail that described details of Best Rents' property listings. ( Id. ) The Deaf tester then called a different number listed on the Best Rents website and Defendant answered. ( Id. ¶¶ 27, 28.) When asked about the availability and rental price of the Wood Apartment, Defendant replied, "It's all online, it's $850.00 a month. It's very, very clear." ( Id. ) The Deaf tester then inquired about the security deposit and Defendant replied, "There is no security. I'm in a meeting right now. Have her go online." ( Id. ) Defendant then hung up. ( Id. ) Over the course of two days, the Deaf tester called Best Rents three times and receiving no answer, left the same voicemail each time. ( Id. ¶¶ 29, 30.) The voicemails stated, "Hello, I'm interested in three bedrooms apartment [sic] at Archer at [sic] Wood. I want to know which utilities the tenant is responsible for and approximate cost of the utilities. I'm Deaf, so please email me." ( Id. ) On March 15, 2014, the Deaf tester received an email from "Bill" at Best Rents, bestrents@aol.com. ( Id. ¶ 30.) The email stated: "There are no utilities included with the apartment. We don't have any apartments that are setup for a handicapped person so none of our apartments are handicapped safe. Thanks for your interest." ( Id. )

II. Access Living's Allegations under the Fair Housing Act

Access Living alleges that Best Rents' actions unfairly discriminated against home seekers who are deaf or hard of hearing. (R.1, ¶ 32.) The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, and religion in the provision of housing. ( See R.1, ¶ 33; see also Civil Rights Act of 1968, Pub. L. No. 90-284, 82 Stat. 73; see also 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. ) In 1988, Congress extended the law's protections to people with disabilities. ( See R.1, ¶ 33; see also Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-430, 102 Stat. 1619; see also 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f).) Specifically, under the Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to, among other things: (1) make any statement "with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on disability" (42 U.S.C. § 3604(c)); (2) represent to any person because of disability "that any dwelling is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when such dwelling is in fact so available" ( id. at § 3604(d)); (3) discriminate in the sale or rental of or to otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because they have a disability ( id. at §3604(f)(1)(A)); or (4) discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges or sale or rental of a dwelling because the person has a disability ( id. at § 3604(f)(2)). ( See R.1, ¶ 34.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendant acted with intentional or in reckless ...


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