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DOJ Successfully Sues Town Over Group Home Zoning

A Conn. town reached an agreement with the Justice Dept. after it used zoning laws to ban disabled-adult group homes from residential neighborhoods.

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced reached an agreement with the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut, to settle a lawsuit alleging the Town violated the Fair Housing Act when it refused to allow the operation of a group home for adults with disabilities in a residential neighborhood.

The settlement must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, but it resolves a lawsuit filed in December 2020. It also resolves a related suit brought by the property owner of the proposed group home, SELF Inc. and L&R Realty Inc. The department’s lawsuit arose from a complaint that SELF and L&R Realty filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which referred the matter to the Justice Department.

“Local governments do not have the right to use zoning laws and restrictions as a vehicle to discriminate against people with disabilities,” says Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“HUD commends the Justice Department for holding municipalities accountable for violating our nation’s housing laws, and we look forward to working together to do even more to protect the rights of persons with disabilities,” adds Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Demetria McCain of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

The department’s lawsuit alleged that Wolcott violated the Fair Housing Act when it denied a special use permit to L&R Realty and SELF to open a residence for 13 adults with mental health disabilities. At the time, the town’s zoning regulations permitted the operation of community residences of up to 15 adults with disabilities so long as certain conditions were satisfied, and the United States alleged that the town denied the permit because of the disabilities of the proposed residents. The complaint also alleged that the town amended its zoning regulations to prohibit any community residence for adults with disabilities from operating after learning about the group-home proposal.

Under the settlement, Wolcott will allow the group home to operate and amend its zoning regulations to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including permitting group homes for persons with disabilities in residential districts. The same size limitations will apply to families of a similar size, and it will create a reasonable accommodation policy.

The town will also pay $350,000 in monetary damages to SELF and L&R Realty, as well as $10,000 to the United States, along with other actions.

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