Are Wealthy People Immune from Housing Discrimination? No.

J. Courtney Cunningham Oct. 3, 2023

When I first started practicing housing discrimination law, I didn’t think I would be representing wealthy older people. Honestly, I thought those types of people would be discriminating against my clients. I thought my clients would be not so wealthy people who were suffering discrimination at the hands of wealthy people with more power and money. A recent case proved me wrong. I represented a wealthy man, with multiple homes, in multiple states who was suffering discrimination at his home in Palm Beach County.

My client was an older man in his seventies who had suffered a severe stroke about 10 years earlier. That stroke left him with a neurological deficit and a speech disorder called expressive aphasia. People who have expressive aphasia have a very difficult time expressing themselves. They know what they want to say but have trouble putting the words together. When they become upset or angry, speaking becomes exceedingly more challenging. Expressive aphasia is a disability and people with expressive aphasia are members of a protected class under the Fair Housing Act.

My client is a disabled man who said made an unfortunate statement to a staff person at his club/spa in the community where he lives, as a result of his expressive aphasia. He immediately regretted his words, but the homeowner’s association completely overreacted. They barred him from the club, the gym and the restaurants while requiring him to continue paying thousands of dollars for club dues. It was punishment for a person acting within the scope of his disability.

When I represented him before his homeowner’s association grievance committee, I asked them to show my client some compassion because, as I told them, “If you are lucky enough to live a long life, you are going to become disabled. Your body is going to slowly wear out and you will become disabled, but you’ll still be alive. I’ve seen it with my own mother. She’s a proud, but very old woman that cannot live on her own.” That went nowhere.

We were forced to sue his homeowner’s association for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act where we basically alleged that the homeowner’s association was punishing my client for being disabled. The homeowner’s association allowed people who were not disabled to use the club and all the amenities, but they refused to allow a person with a disability to use the club and all of the amenities. We settled the case with the homeowner’s association agreeing to pay damages, attorney’s fees and to immediately allow my client to use the amenities and facilities at the property. It was a good outcome for my client.

Everybody can be subjected to housing discrimination, even the wealthy and powerful. If you believe you have suffered housing discrimination, contact a knowledgeable fair housing attorney to protect your rights.