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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Apartment Complex Was Unfair to Kids

LENEXA, Kan. (CN) - The owners of a Kansas apartment complex discriminated against families with children by threatening to report them to social services, Uncle Sam said in a settled complaint.

Defendants Brisben Chimney Hills LP, owner of the Reserve apartment complex in Lenexa,; former owner JRK Residential America LLC; MBS GP 5 LLC and former JRK managers Casey McGowan, Laura Ball and Meredith Hinklin will pay a total of $170,000 to settle the Fair Housing Act violations.

The Reserve, a 256-unit multifamily complex with a swimming pool and several common grassy areas, issued notices to tenants from 2009 to 2012, threatening "legal action," confiscation of personal property and calls to 911 and social services if adults failed to supervise and accompany children "at all times."

Failure to comply could result in eviction and reports to the housing choice voucher program.

The complex's restrictions banned kids from riding bicycles on the property, entering the adults-only grassy areas or playing anywhere except a small, designated area. No more than two adult-supervised children younger than 16, per tenant, were allowed at the pool at one time, and all team sports -- for children only -- were banned on the grounds.

The lawsuit stemmed from a complaint filed three years ago with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, by former Reserve tenant Sheryl Ghilardi. She had complained to complained to JRK regional manager Meredith Hinklin that the Reserve's policies were discriminatory toward her and her son.

Hinklin told her the policies were "not up for discussion," according to the lawsuit .

For four months - a period Ghilardi called a "lock down" - she kept her 13-year-old son indoors, not even letting him outside to get the mail or take out the trash.

She drove her son to a distant swimming pool and chauffeured him to the bus stop and to kid-friendly neighborhoods to play. She bought a fitness club membership for the boy, who felt he "had to hide" whenever he left the apartment, so that he could train for sports.

When it came time to renew Ghilardi's lease for the tenth consecutive year, management sent her a non-renewal notice with no explanation. Ghilardi called it retaliation.

The Justice Department agreed, ordering the defendants to pay $60,000 to Ghilardi, $100,000 to a victim fund to compensate other aggrieved families and $10,000 to the United States as a civil penalty. The consent decree must be approved by a federal judge.

It prohibits the defendants from discriminating against families with children and requires them to get training on the Fair Housing Act.

"Many parents are already struggling to find affordable housing for their families, and they should not also have to face discrimination because they have children," Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of HUD's Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

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