Fair Housing Decision Tests Previous Notion Of Standing

The recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the federal Fair Housing Act case Olsen v. Stark Homes, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 13731 (2d Cir. July 18, 2014) illustrates the concept that individuals and entities other than persons of a protected class have standing to challenge discriminatory housing practices under the federal Fair Housing Act. While this concept may appear to be contrary to traditional notions of standing, Olsen, the cases cited within Olsen, and other cases in the Second Circuit preceding Olsen exploring standing explain why persons and entities not within a protected class have standing to bring an action under the Fair Housing Act and demonstrate the strength of that statute.

Olsen Case

In Olsen, the Olsen family alleged that Stark Homes denied them a lease in a mobile home park for persons at least 55 years old because of their intent to have a family member under that age with a mental disability live with them. The Olsens maintained that the denial of the lease was based on the family member's disability and thus constituted discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

The family contacted Long Island Housing Services, Inc. (LIHS), a private not-for-profit corporation engaged in fair-housing advocacy, for assistance. LIHS wrote a letter on the Olsens' behalf to Stark Homes, sent testers (individuals who posed as prospective renters for the purpose of collecting evidence of unlawful treatment of persons of a protected class) to the site at issue to determine whether Stark Homes would exclude family members under the age of 55 who did not have a disability, and drafted and submitted an administrative complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of both the Olsens and LIHS.

As the efforts of LIHS failed to persuade Stark Homes to give the Olsens a lease, the Olsens and LIHS filed an action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York alleging that the actions of Stark Homes violated the Fair Housing Act. LIHS sought reimbursement for the expenses it had incurred in its work on behalf of the Olsens.

The case went to trial, and the district court granted a motion brought by Stark Homes pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a) for a judgment as a matter of law dismissing all of the plaintiffs' claims. On the appeal, LIHS argued that even if the claims brought by the Olsens were properly dismissed, there was sufficient evidence for LIHS's own independent claim for discrimination to be submitted to the jury. While Stark Homes argued that the district court properly granted its motion...

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