11/30/2023 in News & Media, Press Releases

Fair Housing Advocacy Groups Join Federal Lawsuit Accusing Major Rental Apartment Provider of Disability Discrimination following Investigation by Fair Housing Experts


November 30, 2023

Contact: Janelle Brevard | jbrevard@nationalfairhousing.org

Washington, D.C. — Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA™), the Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh (FHP), and the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania (HECP) announced that they are intervening in a federal lawsuit against AION Management, which manages multiple multi-family apartment rental communities in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, and several affiliated entities (together, “AION”), asserting that AION violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by discriminating against persons with disabilities.

The lawsuit stems from a yearlong multi-jurisdictional investigation initiated by FHP in 2020 and expanded with the assistance of HECP and NFHA. In early 2021, the three fair housing organizations jointly filed a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleging that numerous AION properties throughout Pennsylvania and Delaware refused to grant reasonable accommodations to prospective residents. A reasonable accommodation is a change to a rule, practice, or policy that allows a person with a disability the same opportunity to live in and enjoy a property as other persons.

As alleged in the lawsuit, the fair housing groups’ investigation found that AION properties refused to waive a “first come, first serve” or similar parking policy for persons with a disability-related need. Further, the evidence showed AION required prospective tenants to cover the costs associated with demarking parking spaces as designated accessible spaces. The Fair Housing Act, and longstanding guidance from HUD and the U.S. Department of Justice, have made it clear that persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations, and that the cost of accommodations must be borne by the housing provider, not the tenant with a disability.

In April of this year, HUD determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that AION violated the law. HUD referred the case to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which filed a lawsuit under the FHA against AION in July. The lawsuit is currently pending in federal district court in Delaware. By intervening as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, NFHA, FHP, and HECP, will fight alongside DOJ to ensure the fair housing rights of all people.

Landlords cannot assess a surcharge when a person with a disability makes a reasonable accommodation request for an assigned parking space. Nor can landlords deny such requests. Having an accessible parking space is a critical necessity for residents with disabilities so they can have the same access to their homes as residents without disabilities.

The landmark federal Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to include disability as a protected basis and make requests for reasonable accommodations a requirement.

AION Management, a private equity-backed rental management company, was formed in 2017 and now manages thousands of apartments within the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions. The surge of private equity-backed firms into the residential rental housing space has become increasingly concerning to fair housing experts who fear maximizing profits could usurp adherence to fair housing laws.

“The Fair Housing Act has prohibited housing discrimination against persons with disabilities for 35 years; these are not new protections. In addition, a 2004 joint statement by HUD and DOJ provides clear guidance on the reasonable accommodation provision of the Fair Housing Act and speaks specifically to parking as a reasonable accommodation,” said Lisa Rice, NFHA’s President and CEO. “Yet, despite decades of education and outreach to inform housing providers of their fair housing responsibilities, we still see housing providers who do not follow the letter, let alone the spirit, of our nation’s fair housing laws.”

“The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination within our housing market to provide us all with housing choice. For people with limited mobility, guaranteed parking access within private parking lots is a necessity for living in their home,” said Megan Hammond, Executive Director of FHP. “Legislation is only as powerful as its enforcement. Today, our role is the enforcement of disability’s inclusion in the Fair Housing Act that our civil rights leaders fought so hard for.”

“A housing provider’s refusal to allow reasonable accommodations can have a significant effect on the health and day-to-day quality of life for people with disabilities. The denial of an individual’s right to a reserved parking space can result in isolation, increased physical pain, and worsening of disability-related symptoms. A reserved parking space is a relatively simple accommodation to provide and the refusal to do so is a clear violation of the federal Fair Housing Act,” said Rachel Wentworth, Executive Director of HECP.

FHP, HECP, and NFHA are represented in the lawsuit by Joseph Wardenski of Wardenski P.C., a civil rights law firm based in New York.
Anyone who has been denied reasonable accommodation or has experienced housing discrimination should report it to NFHA or a local fair housing agency, or file a housing discrimination complaint with HUD.

The work that provided the basis for this press release was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.

The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is the country’s only national civil rights organization dedicated solely to eliminating all forms of housing and lending discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities for all people. As the trade association for over 170 fair housing and justice-centered organizations and individuals throughout the U.S. and its territories, NFHA works to dismantle longstanding barriers to equity and build diverse, inclusive, well-resourced communities.