• MMFHC

Judge orders preliminary injunction in favor of family of children with disabilities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DATE: May 11, 2022 CONTACT:

Attorney Rock Pledl, Davis & Pledl, S.C. 414-667-0390 rtp@davisandpledl.com

JUDGE TELLS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION: ALLOW FAMILY TO BUILD FENCE TO PROTECT CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

De Pere, Wisconsin – In a resounding victory for parents of children with disabilities, Judge William C. Griesbach of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, has ordered a preliminary injunction that prohibits Nazcr Trac Property Owners Association (the Association) from enforcing its “no fence” rule in its subdivision of single-family homes in De Pere. The preliminary injunction results from a lawsuit filed on August 11, 2021 by Lisa and Michael Newman, who own a home in the subdivision managed by the Association. The Newmans reside in the home with their four young children. The three oldest children have been diagnosed with autism. As a result of autism, the Newman children are unable to understand dangerous situations or assess their own safety, and require extra supervision to prevent them from running way. Two of their children have demonstrated significant risk of elopement. In order to protect their children from harm and provide them safe opportunities to play outdoors, the Newmans wrote the Association president, Kevin Burt, in July 2019, and asked for permission to build a fence around their backyard as a reasonable accommodation to the subdivision’s “no fence” rule. Under state and federal fair housing laws, reasonable accommodations must be granted to persons with disabilities when such an accommodation enables the resident to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing. Burt never followed up with the Newmans regarding any decision made by the Association. Later, a neighbor told the Newmans that she’d heard the Association had decided not to let the Newmans build a fence. In December 2020, the Newmans sent Burt another request to build a backyard fence. This time they provided him with a publication that explained the legal obligation to consider a reasonable accommodation request. They also submitted letters from medical professionals that verified the children’s disabilities and their need for an enclosed place to play. Burt never responded directly to the Newmans, but later, the Association sent a letter to all property owners in the Association stating that it would not “go outside” the current rules. It also stated that fencing could not be placed in “green space,” but did not address the Newmans’ specific request. The Newmans contacted the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC). MMFHC staff conducted intake of complaints from the Newmans, and counseled them on their fair housing rights and options for legal remedy. MMFHC made a formal referral to Attorney Rock Pledl, who serves on MMFHC’s Panel of Cooperating Attorneys. With Mr. Pledl’s assistance, the Newmans filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the Association and Kevin Burt had discriminated based on disability, in violation of the Fair Housing Amendments Act, by wrongfully denying requests to build a backyard fence as reasonable accommodation. While the lawsuit will continue, Judge Griesbach’s preliminary injunction means that the Newmans may proceed with installing a fence, and that their children may play safely in their own yard this summer. Lisa Newman said: “We are all very excited to have a fence. The weather has been so nice and we haven't been able to go outside. The girls want to have a garden and set up our sandbox. They are also looking forward to picnics. These are all things they haven't been able to do.” The Newmans’ attorney, Rock Pledl, said: “We are extremely pleased that the Newman children will be able to enjoy their backyard this summer just like other children in their neighborhood who do not have disabilities. The preliminary injunction also sends a strong message to homeowners’ associations that there will be legal consequences if they strictly enforce subdivision or condo rules without considering the needs of residents with disabilities.” Funding for the Fair Housing Council’s work is provided in part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. ___________________________________________ MMFHC is a private, non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote fair housing throughout the State of Wisconsin by combating illegal housing discrimination and by creating and maintaining racially and economically integrated housing patterns. It operates satellite offices in Dane County (the Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison) and in Northeast Wisconsin (the Fair Housing Center of Northeast Wisconsin). Persons who feel they may have experienced illegal housing discrimination should call 1-877-647-3247, a statewide toll-free number. Callers within the 414 area code may call 414-278-1240. All services to victims of illegal housing discrimination are free of charge. Davis & Pledl, S.C. is a Milwaukee law firm that represents individuals and families in cases involving services for children and adults with disabilities including special education. Rock Pledl is a shareholder at Davis & Pledl. He practices disability and civil rights law with a focus on discrimination in housing, education and public services based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or race.