The city of Beaumont is facing a lawsuit from the Department of Justice (DOJ) who claims the municipality is liable for discriminating against the disabled for requiring a more stringent set of safety standards for group homes that what is applied to other residential structures.
The DOJ is suing the city over allegations of violating the Fair Housing Act and the American’s with Disabilities Act.
“The claims brought by the Department of Justice relate to the city of Beaumont enforcement of regulations of group homes, which are required by state law,” William Michael McKamie, the attorney representing Beaumont in the case, told the Southeast Texas Record.
“In particular, there is a statutory separation requirement between group homes. The city enforces that state law provision and references it in the city ordinances. Also, the city enforces the International Fire Code which requires residential sprinkler systems in group homes. The city is mandated by Texas law to adopt the International Building Code, which includes those provisions.”
The lawsuit alleges the city has discriminated against persons with disabilities. These allegations are based on its treatment of small group homes and companion care homes for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The lawsuit claims that the city applies overly-restrictive zoning and fire code restrictions that are not imposed on similarly-situated housing for individuals without disabilities.
“The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act seek to ensure that individuals with disabilities can live in communities of their choice without facing discrimination,” said Vanita Gupta, a principal deputy assistant attorney general of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. “This lawsuit furthers our commitment to community inclusion for persons with disabilities.”
The suit further seeks to prohibit Beaumont from imposing unnecessary fire code requirements that exceed those mandated by the state of Texas, which regulates such homes.
However, McKamie believes that the city has enforced those state requirements and did not intentionally or purposefully chose to discriminate those with disabilities.
“The city has taken no intentional action to discriminate in any way against group homes in Beaumont, but has enforced its ordinances and state regulations on such businesses equally, regardless of the type of customers they serve,” he wrote.
Currently, the city is looking ahead and preparing for the trial. Part of their plan is to include the state of Texas as a defendant.
“The court has just approved a pretrial order including case scheduling, and has taken under advisement the city’s motions to add the State of Texas as a defendant, and to dismiss some or all of the Plaintiff’s claims,” McKamie said.
The DOJ, however, is still insisting that the city of Beaumont is at fault and asking the city to correct the alleged violations.
“Fair housing practices for all Americans and certainly for individuals with disabilities is a keystone civil right and one which today’s legal action underscores,” U.S. Attorney John Malcolm Bales of the Eastern District of Texas said. “We trust that the city of Beaumont will respond appropriately but the department and the U.S. Attorney’s office is prepared to take the necessary steps to insure that these rights are enforced.”
The lawsuit against the city arose as a result of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities. They alleged that their homes were closed and were threatened with closure under Beaumont’s challenged housing restrictions.