Justice Department announces $25,000 settlement agreement with Irmo

By Al Dozier

The town of Irmo has agreed to pay $25,000 to a homeowner with a disability as part of a settlement agreement resolving the government’s Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuit, according to an announcement by the Justice Department.

That announcement is at odds with public comments made at a council meeting a few weeks ago that the town had reached a settlement without any payout ramifications.

Irmo Mayor Barry Walker reiterated that position Monday when asked about the settlement.

The payment mentioned in the suit is the result of mitigation performed by the town’s insurance provider, Walker said. “It’s not us.”

He said the settlement is not costing the town any money. The issue was turned over to the town’s lawyer and insurance provider who negotiated the $25,000 settlement agreement.

Councilwoman Kathy Condom said the council did not sign off to any kind of payout, but agreed to approve the settlement reached by the insurance company’s mitigation. She said the town did agree to have town officials receive some educational instruction on Fair Housing regulations.
Town Administrator Bob Brown said, “We haven’t written a check to anybody.”

Brown said the settlement agreement was handled by the town’s insurance provider. He said the only cost to the town would be a possible increase in insurance fees, which commonly happens after such settlements.

But the announcement released by the Justice Department” states: “The Town of Irmo, South Carolina, has agreed to pay $25,000 to a homeowner with a disability” as part of a settlement agreement resolving the government’s Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuit.”

Earlier in the litigation, the Justice Department was seeking $40,000 in compensation to the homeowner.

The litigation began in November 2018 when the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina alleged that the town violated the FHA by refusing to allow an Irmo homeowner to build a carport adjacent to her home to accommodate her physical disability

According to the complaint, the homeowner, after falling and suffering injuries on several occasions outside her home, applied for a zoning variance in 2016 to build a carport to protect her driveway and mobility ramp in inclement weather and prevent future fall. But the town summarily denied the variance.

The homeowner filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which conducted an investigation and referred the matter to the Justice Department.

“The homeowner in this case requested a simple, straightforward, and reasonable accommodation: to build a carport adjacent to her own single-family home so she would be protected from the elements and could safely enter and exit her home. She should not have been forced to wait three years for this accommodation,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division.

“This settlement is a reminder that the Justice Department is committed to working tirelessly to enforce the Fair Housing Act and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The department’s lawsuit should also serve as a warning that federal law protects the right of persons with disabilities to be secure in their homes and that the Justice Department will do whatever is necessary to protect that right.”

After the department filed the lawsuit, the town adopted an ordinance allowing persons with disabilities to request reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services to afford them an equal opportunity to use or enjoy their home, according to the Justice Department announcement. More than a year later, the town finally granted the homeowner’s reasonable accommodation request and allowed her to build a carport so she could live safely in her home.