GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) – A disabled Michigan woman claims she faces eviction from her low-income apartment because she uses prescribed medical marijuana, while her landlord is making upgrades to illegally increase rent.
Kari Thompson sued real-estate investment and property management firm Eenhoorn LLC in Grand Rapids federal court on Friday, alleging disability discrimination and violation of the Fair Housing Act. LPNH LLC, Grand Pointe Limited Partnership and Eenhoorn Lofts are also named as defendants in the 28-page complaint.
Thompson says she signed a lease in 2011 to rent a loft in a property currently owned by LPNH.
That same year, Thompson became permanently disabled, and as a result, her primary source of income has been Social Security disability payments, the complaint states. She says she chose to live at the lofts because subsidized housing for low-income tenants is available.
According to the complaint, Thompson’s severe anxiety can be exacerbated by loud noises. She says she told both Eenhoorn and Eenhoorn Lofts – entities that manage the property – about her anxiety disorder and physical disability at the time she executed her lease.
After she moved into her apartment, however, Thompson alleges she had particularly loud and troublesome neighbors. She also experienced ongoing “dark discharge” from her faucets, the complaint states.
Thompson made several complaints to Eenhoorn Lofts’ on-site manager, but nothing was done about the issues when she reported the problem, according to her lawsuit.
In April of last year, Thompson obtained a medical marijuana card to help with pain relating to her physical disability, and she uses a smokeless device to ingest the prescribed drug.
Nonetheless, in the summer of 2016, Eenhoorn repeatedly called the Grand Rapids Police Department, claiming that there had been complaints about the smell of marijuana smoke coming from Thompson’s apartment, according to the complaint.
Thompson’s attorney sent a reasonable accommodation request to Eenhoorn in September, asking that Thompson be allowed to use medical marijuana in her apartment, the lawsuit states.
In response, a district manager for Eenhoorn allegedly stated that no accommodation would be made because of the property’s strict no-smoking policy.
By late October, Eenhoorn, on behalf of LPNH, had sent Thompson a third eviction notice. She had received two previous eviction notices in 2014 and 2015, but both were voluntarily dismissed by the companies, according to the complaint.
The first eviction notice allegedly came after Thompson complained about the ongoing issues with her neighbors and Eenhoorn’s failure to address the problems.
According to the complaint, the second notice occurred when the property managers decided not to renew Thompson’s lease and declined her request to move to a different apartment to avoid the loud neighbors, claiming “that none of the other apartments would be any quieter.”
Though she claims Eenhoorn violated the Fair Housing Act on the basis of her disability, Thompson also alleges the company knowingly breached a regulatory agreement when it took a mortgage interest in the property.
Grand Pointe had bought the lofts in 1996, and reached an agreement with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority two years later to provide low-income rates for all of its rental units for 15 years, followed by an extended-use period of another 30 years, the complaint states.
According to the lawsuit, for a period of three years at the end of the extended-use period, an owner of a low-income housing property cannot evict an existing tenant unless they have good cause and cannot increase their rent.
LPNH acquired title to the lofts from Eenhorn in January 2015 pursuant to a deed in lieu of foreclosure. Thompson’s lawsuit claims this conveyance was made “with the intent to strip the lofts of any obligation to provide low income units as required by the lofts regulatory agreement and as otherwise required by applicable law.”
In addition, Thompson says her rent was increased last year by $34 per month, in violation of the regulatory agreement and the Truth in Renting Act.
Continuing today, Thompson alleges she’s noticed several improvements to the lofts, including an updated lobby and fitness and game room additions, all of which have occurred after LPNH took ownership of the property.
LPNH has also advertised its market rate at the rental lofts at more than $1,000 per month, according to the complaint. That rent increase would force Thompson to pay an additional $306 per month more than the amount she initially agreed to in her first lease.
“Ms. Thompson cannot afford to live in Lofts Unit 411 if she is required to pay the market rate for her apartment, which amount exceeds that permitted to be charged pursuant to the Lofts Regulatory Agreement and applicable law,” the complaint states.
Thompson seeks a ruling that the regulatory agreement is in effect, and that LPNH must maintain low-income units in the lofts for the entire extended-use period.
Eenhoorn said in a statement that Thompson has made it clear she is unhappy with her living situation at the lofts and the company “has offered to assist her to move to a new location at no personal cost,” but she filed her lawsuit instead.
The management firm also said it has not addressed the issue of whether Thompson’s use of medical marijuana is allowed on the property under state law with a prescription from a doctor.
“We presume she has such a prescription. We do note, however, that Ms. Thompson smokes in her room and the smell of the marijuana permeates her room and drifts out into the building,” the company said. “Smoking tobacco, marijuana or any other substance anywhere on the apartment’s property is prohibited. Ms. Thompson does not like that rule. This, together with numerous other incidents involving her behavior in the apartment building, is the reason management is sending her a notice to quit the premises.”
Thompson is represented by John P. Smith with Legal Aid of Western Michigan, who did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.