A North Raleigh homeowners association will pay $20,000 as part of a settlement in a housing discrimination lawsuit involving a handicap-accessible ramp.
The Carriages at Allyn’s Landing HOA told homeowners Cindy and Ian Block in 2011 that they would have to remove a wheelchair ramp from the exterior of their townhome if they sold the home to someone without a disability.
Under that condition, the Blocks would have had to ask potential buyers whether they had a disability, which is a violation of the Fair Housing Act, said Lauren Brasil, attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina.
“There are certain things you can’t ask, and that would have been one of them,” Brasil said.
After reviewing the issue, the North Carolina Human Relations Commission filed a complaint in 2013 in Wake County Superior Court against the HOA, the group’s property management company, VPJ Enterprises, and the company’s president.
Legal Aid of North Carolina represented the Blocks in a lawsuit filed after the complaint.
The Blocks got approval from the homeowners association to have a ramp installed at their home in 2009. Cindy Block’s mother used a wheelchair after she had a stroke and needed the ramp to get into the house.
As part of the approval, the HOA said the Blocks had to remove it when it was no longer needed.
Cindy Block said she and her husband agreed to the conditions because they needed the ramp for her mother.
When Cindy Block’s mother died in 2010, the HOA sent letters to the Blocks saying the ramp must be removed, according to the lawsuit.
Cindy Block, 60, has a congenital visual defect that will make her vision worse as she ages. She is considered legally blind.
The Blocks requested to keep the ramp to help Cindy navigate the exterior of their home, and the HOA agreed, according to the lawsuit.
“Once I had the ramp for my mom, I realized how much more comfortable I was having that versus having stairs,” she said.
The Blocks filed a fair housing complaint, and the Human Relations Commission, a state group that oversees issues of equality in housing, employment and government services, investigated.
The commission determined that “reasonable grounds exist to believe that an unlawful discriminatory housing practice had occurred,” according to the lawsuit.
As part of the settlement, which was announced March 23, the HOA, VPJ Enterprises and the company’s president, Victor Jones, will donate $5,000 to Operation FINALLY HOME, a group that builds mortgage-free homes for wounded and disabled veterans.
The defendants in the case also will participate in fair housing training and formally acknowledge that their actions are bound by state and federal fair housing laws, according to court documents from the settlement.
“Neither the association and Victor Jones have admitted to any wrongdoing in this case,” said Brian Edlin, attorney for the HOA and Jones.
The defendants agreed to settle the case to avoid mounting legal costs, Edlin said.
The Blocks moved from Allyn’s Landing, a community near Six Forks Road, in November. Cindy Block said she hopes the settlement will have an impact on how homeowners groups treat residents with disabilities.
“I felt like it was important to pursue this even though it took a long time and was emotionally draining,” she said. “It was important on behalf of all people with disabilities.”