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PJC Wins Certiorari On Appeal for Disabled Tenants

On February 9,  2005,  the Maryland Court of Appeals granted a petition for certiorari filed by current Murnaghan fellow Beth Mellen Harrison in the case of Solberg v. Majerle Management, an appeal from a decision rendered by the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.  PJC represents two tenants, who were found to have breached their residential lease with their landlord, Majerle Management.  Both of the tenants have serious physical disabilities which require that they live in a low toxic environment and avoid all exposure to pesticides and other respiratory irritants.  The tenants’ lease incorporated the requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by requiring the landlord to make reasonable accommodations, including following prescribed medical protocols before entering the leased premises, in order to reduce the risk of harmful exposure to the tenants.  The case arose when the landlord’s agent demanded that he be allowed to inspect the property, but refused to follow the prescribed medical protocols and refused the tenants’ requests to reschedule planned inspections based on their current illnesses and/or the desire to minimize harmful exposure at certain times of the year.  The Circuit Court rejected the tenants’ argument that their alleged breach of the lease resulted from the landlord’s violation of the FHA, by its agent’s refusal to make reasonable accommodations to the inspection policy.  PJC asked the Court of Appeals to grant certiorari in order to clarify the scope and proper application of the FHA’s reasonable accommodation requirements, and ultimately to reverse the Circuit Court’s judgment in this case that the tenants had breached the lease.  PJC argued that the Circuit Court erred by failing to apply established federal precedent to analyze the tenants’ FHA defense to the breach of lease claim, and by ignoring evidence in the record establishing that the accommodations requested by the tenants were reasonable and necessary in order to ensure equal opportunity in housing.  The case will be briefed and argued in the coming months.

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