An upscale continuing care retirement community drew the ire of residents four years ago when it began limiting certain areas and events to its independent living residents. Suddenly, residents in the assisted living or nursing units could no longer attend certain holiday parties or eat meals in the community’s country-club style dining room. According to the Justice Department, the facility’s management was motivated by a desire to attract younger, active seniors, and sought to keep residents with more serious disabilities out of certain highly visible areas.
The residents protested, and management slowly walked back its policies, eventually agreeing that any resident who passed a health assessment and signed a liability release could use the dining room. That was not good enough for the Justice Department, which notified management it would file suit. Now, the health screening requirement has been eliminated, and the facility will pay compensation to the residents, as well as a fine to the government. It must also appoint a Fair Housing Act compliance officer and provide additional staff training.
The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing, including discrimination against people with disabilities. The law applies in assisted living facilities and senior housing, and the Department of Justice recently demonstrated that it is willing to step in and enforce the law.
The action by the Justice Department serves to put senior housing facilities on notice that fair housing law applies in assisted living environments just as it does in other areas.
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