In its decision in Harding v. Orlando Apartments, LLC, Case No. 13-11805 (decided April 14, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit addressed a significant issue regarding the liability of the owner of an apartment complex under the Fair Housing Act. A portion of the Fair Housing Act addresses discrimination against the handicapped and requires that apartment complexes be designed and constructed to accommodate handicapped individuals. The Harding case addressed whether the owner of an apartment complex who had no role in the design and construction of the apartment complex could be held liable under the Fair Housing Act for design and construction deficiencies.

In the Harding case, the apartment complex had been built and was initially owned by Orlando Apartments, LLC. However, the next year, Orlando Apartments, LLC sold the apartment complex to an unrelated limited liability company. The plaintiffs filed a complaint against both Orlando Apartments, LLC and the subsequent owner and contended that the apartment complex violated certain design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The plaintiff sought to hold the subsequent owner liable on the theory that it had “continued to allow the [design-and-construction violations] to exist.” Opinion, p. 6. The Eleventh Circuit, relying upon its reading of the plain language of the Fair Housing Act, concluded that the design-and-construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act do not provide a basis for a claim against a subsequent owner that had no involvement in the design or construction of the facility.

The Harding decision will provide some clarity in the law for owners of apartment complexes regarding their liability under the Fair Housing Act for discrimination against the handicapped.

The opinion is found at http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/ops/201311805.pdf