by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
It’s time for another guest post from an MHAS staff member. This time, I bring you my colleague Ian Magladry, who has achieved meaningful victories for many clients in his time at MHAS. He is moving on to continue a career in public service, and we look forward to collaboration with him in the years to come.
Ian reflects on the need for enforcement of fair housing rights for people with disabilities, and on his time at MHAS:
Over the last two years at MHAS** I’ve had the pleasure of assisting clients with a myriad of problems and in several practice areas. As I look back through notes and case files, I keep returning to the most prevalent thorn in the side of my practice – fair housing enforcement.
I’ve done dozens of fair housing trainings to landlords, advocates, clinicians, and consumers. I’ve negotiated settlements with landlords and requested countless accommodations on behalf of clients who face discrimination on the basis of mental illness. And often we are successful.
However, in many fair housing disputes, disabled tenants are at a substantial disadvantage. Our clients, often living on razor thin margins, risk retaliation and harassment for attempting to enforce their right to accommodations for their disabilities. Furthermore, the truncated timeline for eviction cases and the fear of homelessness often force clients to capitulate and accept unlawful behavior from their landlords.
In most of MHAS’s practice areas, there is an established and clear procedure for enforcing rights. In special education, we pursue compliance complaints and file due process suits. In federal benefits cases, we appear before administrative law judges. Yet such a system does not readily exist for enforcement of fair housing claims, especially on an individual basis. Certainly we refer viable complaints to the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing for potential investigation, and there are some causes of action for housing discrimination which can be filed in superior courts. But for most of our clients and in most situations, drawn-out litigation over enforcement of rights to a reasonable accommodation is neither practical nor timely.
As the emphasis of housing policy continues to ebb towards housing the most chronically homeless first, more formerly homeless people will enter housing and be confronted with uninformed landlords – creating an even greater need for enforcement of fair housing rights. MHAS will continue to protect those rights and educate stakeholders. However, legal agencies, social services, and housing providers must work together to create a more effective system for enforcement. It’s imperative to meet our shared goal of equal housing for all, regardless of disability.
**Much like Harper Lee, I will only publish [in this blog] once. I cannot express my tremendous gratitude to MHAS for teaching me how to be a lawyer. I have had an incredible experience as an MHAS attorney and I look forward to a long relationship with MHAS.
Thank you to Ian Magladry for your thoughts and contributions to the communities we serve.