Where tenants alleged their husband-and-wife landlords violated federal and Virginia law by stating a discriminatory policy or preference against renting to families with children, and the husband argued all the communications were only with the wife, his motion to dismiss was denied. The fair housing law does not allow a landlord to escape liability by delegating the duty not to discriminate.
Claire Payton and Jonathan Katz are a married couple with a child. They bring this action under the federal Fair Housing Act, or FHA, and the Virginia Fair Housing Law, or VFHL. They file suit against their former landlords, Liana Arias de Velasco Guallart and Christopher Tschappatt, a married couple, for (1) discriminating against them in the provision of rental housing based on familial status, (2) stating a discriminatory policy or preference against renting to families with children and (3) retaliating against them for asserting their rights under the FHA and VFHL. Tschappatt has filed a motion to dismiss.
Tschappatt argues that, though “Plaintiffs use the plural ‘defendants’ when mak[ing] allegations of discrimination,” they “make no factual allegations that Mr. Tschappatt engaged in discriminatory actions — in fact, the only allegation that mentions Mr. Tschappatt directly is that he saw Dr. Payton when she was pregnant.” He asserts that “[t]here are no allegations that he did anything, said anything or acted in any way toward the Plaintiffs,” and “[b]ecause Plaintiffs make no factual allegations against [him], their Complaint against him cannot survive.”
But Tschappatt co-owns the apartment at issue with his wife, Arias, and they rented the apartment to plaintiffs. The Fourth Circuit has recognized that “compliance with the … FHA … is ‘nondelegable’” so “an owner cannot ‘insulate himself from liability for … discrimination in regard to living premises owned by him and managed for his benefit merely by relinquishing the responsibility for preventing such discrimination to another party.’”
Courts have found that “[i]t is consistent with the spirit of the [FHA] to hold all owners of property responsible for ensuring compliance with its provisions,” as “[a]n owner of property cannot avoid compliance with the Act by delegating the duty not to discriminate.” And “[s]everal courts have held that both spouses are liable when one spouse engages in discriminatory conduct while renting jointly owned property.” Tschappatt cites no cases in which an FHA claim against a co-owner who did not personally engage in any discriminatory action under the FHA was found non-justiciable.
The complaint alleges that Guallart spoke on behalf of herself and Tschappatt in many communications. Further, factual allegations throughout the complaint support that both defendants were plaintiffs’ landlords. As such, plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged facts to support their claims against Tschappatt.
Tschappatt’s motion to dismiss denied.
Payton v. de Velasco Guallart, Case No. 3:22-cv-00042, Feb. 17, 2023. WDVA at Charlottesville (Moon). VLW 023-3-068. 10 pp.