Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Indiana Civil Rights Commission Sues Neighborhood Association For Racial Discrimination

In an extremely rare move, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission has filed suit in Allen Superior Court against a New Haven neighborhood association on behalf of a black family which claims it was racially discriminated against by its neighbors. The Journal-Gazette's Rebecca Green writes:

The Indiana Civil Rights Commission has filed a complaint against a New Haven subdivision’s community association alleging racial discrimination. According to the complaint filed in Allen County Superior Court, the Shordon Estates Community Association discriminated against a resident, Philip Johnson, and his family, who are renting a home in the neighborhood in the 2900 block of Rolling Meadows.

The subdivision is northwest of downtown New Haven and just east of Fort Wayne city limits. Johnson, 51, a Chicago native, said he had been renting a house in the neighborhood with a verbal agreement to buy the home from its owner, Rick Widmann.

According to court documents, Johnson and his family continue to rent the single-family home and have been doing so since October 2003. “Throughout their tenancy, the Johnsons experienced what they perceived to be hostile statements and actions from neighbors due to the Johnsons’ race,” the complaint read. “The police were called to respond to several incidents of alleged racial hostility.”

On April 17, 2005, the Shordon Estates Community Association modified its bylaws and neighborhood covenants by a 62-9 vote to include a restriction prohibiting the rental of homes without approval from the community association. Citing 2000 U.S. census data, the complaint alleges that the residents of Shordon Estates were predominantly white.

According to Civil Rights Commission officials, the restriction prohibited homeowners from renting property to anyone who was not related by blood to the homeowner.

In the complaint, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, acting on Johnson’s behalf, states the community association’s covenant violates Indiana housing code and limits and segregates the availability of housing for minority populations.

Johnson, who is black, and other minority families are, in effect, excluded from Shordon Estates in greater proportion than white families because of the community association’s restrictive covenant, which serves no business necessity, according to the complaint.

This case is going to attract a lot of interest. First, when is the last time you can remember hearing about anything the Indiana Civil Rights Commission did? It's easy to forget it even exists because it has so seldom done anything in recent memory of any significance. The case also raises an interesting property issue concerning restrictive covenants against renting property. It is not at all unusual for upscale neighborhoods to have restrictive convenants against renting. If the Civil Rights Commission prevails on behalf of this homeowner, can challenges be expected against other communities with similar restrictions? This is one case worth watching.

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