Ward Tyczka was renting his Phoenix condo to a family with two children when the property manager began raising concerns.
The family eventually moved out when their lease was up, but the property manager informed him this spring that Sunrise Village Condominiums Association had changed its rules to prohibit kids under age 16.
Tyczka filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court against the association and its manager, saying the new rule discriminated against tenants based on age and tied his hands in legally renting or selling the condo.
The lawsuit also cites emails in which the property manager highlights that the family renting his condo is black.
Darlene Slusher has managed Sunrise Village Condominiums, nine condos tucked away at Thomas Road and 38th Street, for about 30 years. She says she's looking out for the best interests of her community and trying to keep it a wonderful place to live.
"There are HOA rules, and you have to abide by them. If you're a really good homeowner, you would tell your tenant that, wouldn't you?" Slusher told The Arizona Republic.
Pushing back on the association
The lawsuit says the condo association and Slusher went too far when bringing age and race into the equation.
"I’m not gonna get pushed around," Tyczka said. "A lot of people I talk to think HOAs can do that, that this was the norm and that you can do this to people. No, you can't."
His attorney, Jon Dessaules, notes the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race and against families with children.
Tyczka seeks $300,000 in damages.
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Slusher responded to the lawsuit, denying many of the allegations and saying the rule prohibiting children no longer exists.
"There is no rule or regulation or CCR (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) currently denying anyone the right to reside in the SVCA based upon age," she says in the response on Aug. 17.
Board tries to ban kids
The Sunrise Village association board had added age restrictions to its rules earlier this year, according to the lawsuit.
"The Board unanimously voted that no children under the age of 16 should be allowed to live in rental condos, since the damages incurred have been extremely high this past year," a copy of the regulations, updated in March and included in the court filing, reads.
Slusher told The Republic that the tenant's children had shut off electricity to other homes, turned on water spigots and damaged property.
'We can do that since it is an HOA'
The property manager pressured Tyczka to add language barring children to his lease agreements, according to the suit. "We CAN do that since it is an HOA," an email from Slusher cited in the court filing says.
When asked about it by The Republic, Slusher said, "Obviously we felt we were in our rights to do it or else we would never have done it."
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Dessaules points out that HOAs cannot enforce age restrictions if the community is not already an age-restricted community.
"You can’t just simply say, 'There’s no age limit but we’re not going to let you live here," Dessaules said.
Arizona has numerous age-restricted communities, including Sunrise Village senior community, which manages five age-restricted communities in the East Valley and is unrelated to Sunrise Village Condominiums in Phoenix.
Retirement communities must meet specific guidelines to be exempted from the Fair Housing Act's protections against age discrimination.
Raising race issues
The lawsuit also notes that Slusher called attention to the tenants' race in emails to Tyczka and others.
A March 15 email cited in the court filing says that Slusher emailed another condo owner and said the tenant may "come back at some point against (Tyczka)." She added in parentheses, "since they are black," the filing says.
Slusher denied this in her response, although she admitted to sending an email to Tyczka about the renters, saying "I'm quite sure he wants to cause you trouble because he is black."
In her response to the suit, Slusher said the language is taken out of context.
Slusher previously told The Republic that she called attention to the tenant's race because Tyczka lives out of state, in Texas, and she wanted to make him aware of the tenant's race.
"I don't look at it being a race thing. Everybody else may. I don't," she said, noting a black woman, a gay couple and an older woman live in the community.
Lynn Krupnik, a Phoenix attorney who specializes in fair housing, says comments about race can get folks in legal trouble.
In 2009, a Maricopa County Superior Court jury awarded $200,000 to a black man and his Hispanic wife for a remodeling dispute with their homeowner's association after a neighbor heard a board member say, "Black people shouldn't be living here."
What to do if you're facing discrimination
Krupnik said housing discrimination against families with children is increasingly rare because of education and training through the years.
"Very rarely do we see cases anymore regarding discrimination against children," she said.
Renters have two options if they believe they are facing discrimination from a landlord or HOA, according to Dessaules:
- File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing.
- File a lawsuit.
As for Slusher, she says she tries her best to be a fair property manager.
"I know people hate HOAs, I don't blame them," she said.
"But I will never be one of those people. I never have been. We're remaining here calm, dignified running our business as we always have."