Attorneys with First Liberty Institute today submitted a complaint to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of the Hauges. “Treating residents unequally simply out of hostility to religion violates federal law and taints Virginia’s long history of religious freedom,” said Lea Patterson, associate counsel for First Liberty.
In January of 2017, Ken Hauge and his wife moved into an apartment at the Evergreens at Smith Run, a senior living community in Fredericksburg, Virginia, managed by Community Realty Company (“CRC”) in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ken is a mechanical engineer and retired Lutheran minister who volunteers part-time pastoring at a small church located in a nearby shopping center. For some time, other Evergreens residents had discussed the possibility of starting a resident Bible study group. When the Hauges moved in, those residents asked Ken to lead the Bible study. He agreed and applied to the apartment complex manager to reserve the community room for the Bible study.
The community room hosts various resident social events, such as birthday parties, anniversary parties, baby showers, bingo, bridge, and poker games, and a monthly social dinner. These events are marked on a bimonthly calendar distributed to all residents. The calendar notes which events are Evergreens-sponsored and which are resident events and includes a disclaimer that resident events are not attributable to the Evergreens. Ken reserved the room for the weekly Bible study in early 2017 after putting up a $100 deposit. However, management refused to allow him to call the event a “Bible study,” requiring instead that he call it a “Book Review.”
In a certified letter, also dated July 23, Ken and his wife received a notice threatening eviction. That notice informed him that CRC considers his Bible study leadership to constitute “conducting a business” prohibited by his lease and, as a result, unless he ceases to lead the Bible study, whether in the community room or in his private apartment, his lease will terminate on August 31st.
Even though the law allows Ken to host a Bible study in his private residence and protects him against religious discrimination in housing, to avoid the threat of eviction, Ken agreed to temporarily stop leading the Bible study until his attorneys can resolve the matter with the Evergreens’ management.
On July 23, 2018, the Evergreens instituted a new, six-page community room policy. The policy placed onerous regulations on community room use and prohibited, among others, using the Community Room for “religious services or for other religious purposes.”
In a certified letter, also dated July 23, Ken and his wife received a notice of eviction. That notice informed him that CRC considers his Bible study leadership to constitute “conducting a business” prohibited by his lease and, as a result, unless he ceases to lead the Bible study, whether in the community room or in his private apartment, his lease will terminate on August 31st.
Attorneys with First Liberty Institute initially sent a demand letter detailing how CRC and the Evergreens’s actions constitute religious discrimination in housing, a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.
Read the full letter here.
Now, First Liberty attorneys have filed a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
First Liberty also represents Donna Dunbar; a Port Charlotte, Florida woman denied the use of her condo’s community room for a Bible study. Read more here.
For Immediate Release: October 11, 2018
Contact: Lacey McNiel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Complaint Alleges Fair Housing Violations and Religious Discrimination by Apartment and its Management Company
Fredericksburg, VA—Attorneys with First Liberty Institute this week submitted a complaint to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of an
apartment resident and his wife faced with the possibility of eviction for hosting a small Bible study at their apartment complex. The complaint alleges that the Evergreens at Smith Run, a senior living community located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and its parent company, the Community Realty Company (“CRC”), violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating on the basis of religion. Read First Liberty’s demand letter here.
“It is both shameful and illegal to threaten elderly residents with eviction simply for holding a Bible study,” said Lea Patterson, associate counsel for First Liberty. “Treating residents unequally simply out of hostility to religion violates federal law and taints Virginia’s long history of religious freedom.”
Last year residents asked Ken Hauge, a new resident, to lead a Bible study. Initially unable to reserve the complex’s Community Room, the Bible study met in an apartment during 2017. In flyers announcing the event, the apartment manager refused to allow Hauge to call the event a “Bible study,” requiring instead that he call it a “Book Review.” The Bible study finally received access to the Community Room in early 2018, but on July 23, 2018, the Evergreens adopted a new policy prohibiting residents from engaging in activity for “religious purposes” in the Community Room. In a certified letter also dated July 23, Hauge and his wife, both in their mid-80s, received a notice informing them that CRC and the Evergreens consider the Bible study to constitute “business activity” prohibited by their lease and, unless Hauge ceases to lead the Bible study, their lease would terminate on August 31st, 2018. To avoid the threatened eviction, Ken agreed to suspend the Bible study while attempting to resolve the matter with Evergreens management. First Liberty also represents Donna Dunbar, a Port Charlotte woman denied the use of her condo’s community room for a small women’s Bible study.
In August, First Liberty sent a letter to CRC explaining that their actions violated the federal Fair Housing Act. Unfortunately, CRC has neither responded to First Liberty’s letter, nor resolved the problem. The complaint asks HUD to investigate the matter and take all appropriate actions. Read the entire HUD complaint by clicking here.
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at email@example.com or by calling 972-941-4453.
To download this press release, please click here.