Lambda Legal today filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against a Boulder County property owner who violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to rent a housing unit she owns in Gold Hill, Colorado, to a same-sex couple, one of whom is transgender, and their children because she worried their “uniqueness” would jeopardize her standing in the community.
“Worrying about what the neighbors will say is no excuse for discrimination,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said. “Tonya and Rachel Smith are loving spouses and parents whose ideal home was denied to them because they are a same-sex couple with kids and Rachel is transgender. That’s not just wrong, it is unlawful. By refusing to rent to Tonya and Rachel because of their ‘uniqueness,’ Deepika Avanti is engaging in discrimination in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.”
Tonya and Rachel Smith are a loving, committed same-sex couple living in Colorado. They have been married for more than five years and have two children, ages six and two. Rachel is also transgender. In early 2015, Tonya and Rachel were looking to find a new home for their young family. In April, they located a two-bedroom duplex in the community of Gold Hill, Colorado, that seemed to meet all of their needs – affordable, lots of outdoor space where their children could play, and near a small, high quality public school. After meeting the landlord, Deepika Avanti, and touring both that unit and a three-bedroom unit on the same property, Tonya and Rachel believed they had located their ideal house.
However, within hours, Avanti emailed Tonya and Rachel and informed them she would not be renting either unit to them, because she thought their “unique relationship” would become the focus of discussion in town and would harm her position in the community. She added that she had kept a low profile for 30 years, but that would no longer be possible if she rented to them due to Tonya and Rachel’s “uniqueness.”
“This was all so stunning and upsetting,” Tonya Smith said. “We liked Deepika when we first met her, and we left the showing feeling fairly good about things. When we first heard from her that we were being denied housing, the first response was shock. We were completely dumbfounded that who we are could be the basis of a decision not to allow us to rent from her. It’s wrong, and no one should have to go through what we went through.”
“Housing discrimination is a pervasive problem for LGBT people and it is very much underreported,” Gonzalez-Pagan added. “In many instances, LGBT people who are either overtly or subtly discriminated against in housing do not report the discrimination because of their immediate need to find housing or the costs of pursuing a claim. It is important to hold property owners who engage in this kind of discrimination accountable, sending a strong message both to other property owners and to those who have experienced housing discrimination that it is illegal.”
“The discrimination the Smith family faced would be intolerable anywhere,” said Benjamin Simler, an attorney at the law firm Holland & Hart LLP, who also represents the Smith family. “In the Denver-Boulder market, existing housing shortages already make it hard for anyone to find a place to live, and wrongful discrimination makes it that much harder for those members of our community who are already marginalized. It is our civic duty as members of this community to come together and to make known that we believe in the rule of law and in equal access to housing for all.”
Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, asserts that Avanti engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex and familial status, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. It also asserts that Avanti discriminated against Tonya and Rachel on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status, in violation of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.
Handling the case for Lambda Legal are Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Staff Attorney, and Karen Loewy, Senior Attorney. They are joined by pro-bono co-counsel Benjamin N. Simler of Holland & Hart LLP.