2021 Scorecard: Using Fair Housing Court Cases to Improve Your Compliance Efforts
A look at recent cases yields some important lessons.
It’s against the law to commit housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and handicap (disability).
We’re all pretty familiar with what the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) says. The real challenge is figuring out what it actually means, as in real life. If you use Fair Housing Coach, it’s a good bet that you’re among the vast majority of landlords who are committed to principles of fair housing and try hard to comply with the rules. The problem is that those rules can be vague, confusing, and even contradictory. The only sure way to find out if you’re meeting all of the requirements is to get sued for discrimination and submit to the judgment of the investigator, court, or fair housing tribunal. Of course, that’s hardly a practical strategy; in fact, the whole point of compliance is to avoid getting embroiled in investigation and litigation in the first place.
Luckily, there’s a better approach. Look at the actual cases involving other landlords and draw the appropriate lessons. Knowing what landlords did right and wrong enables you to make informed judgments about and improve the effectiveness of your own compliance efforts. Regrettably, you may not have the time or legal training to track down and analyze the cases—or the budget to hire an attorney to do it. The good news is that we did the heavy lifting for you. This month’s lesson breaks down the key FHA rulings from 2021, explaining not just who won and who lost, but why and what practical compliance lessons you can take from the case.
We’ll present each case as a hypothetical situation and ask you to judge the case. Then we’ll conclude with a briefing on the outcome and its practical significance. There’s also a brief digest of each ruling at the end.
WHERE THE SCORECARD CASES COME FROM
First, let’s establish the context. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gets nearly 30,000 fair housing complaints each year. (Tens of thousands more are filed with state human rights agencies.) Only a few of these cases actually land in court. The vast majority are withdrawn, dropped for technical reasons (for example, because the statute of limitations has passed), settled, or subjected to a preliminary investigation by a HUD Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) officer. If the FHEO investigator finds “no reasonable cause” to believe that discrimination occurred, HUD drops the complaint. If “reasonable cause” is found, the case goes forward to a HUD Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
But HUD ALJ cases aren’t widely reported. Consequently, our analysis is based on the relatively few cases that reach court, either directly via a lawsuit from an individual, fair housing organization, or the U.S. Department of Justice, or an appeal of an ALJ ruling.
HOW THE CASES ARE DECIDED
There’s one more important thing you need to understand about the Scorecard cases. Most of them aren’t a final judgment but a determination of a “summary judgment” motion determining whether the case can even go to trial. Although this sounds like a purely technical point, it has enormous practical significance.
Explanation: Once a complainant—that is, a plaintiff—files a complaint, a defendant will frequently ask for summary judgment in its favor. The argument: Even if all the allegations are true, the claim would still fail because it doesn’t state a valid legal claim. Thus, for example, a landlord sued for discriminating against a prospect because he’s left-handed would have a strong case for summary judgment because left-handedness isn’t a protected class under the FHA. However, summary judgment may be denied if the plaintiff is lefty due to a disability.
Denial of summary judgment doesn’t mean the claim is true and that the landlord committed discrimination; it just means that the claim is legally valid and the plaintiff should get the chance to prove it at trial. But in the real world, summary judgment is usually the turning point in a fair housing case. Winning on summary judgment enables the landlord to put the case behind it (although the plaintiff can appeal). But losing on summary judgment puts the plaintiff in the driver’s seat because it forces the landlord to make a tough decision: risk a trial or pay out money to settle the case. Thus, all but four of the cases in the 2021 Scorecard involved a summary judgment ruling.
When Will Courts Grant Summary Judgment?
When, as is typically the case, there’s no direct evidence of discrimination, federal courts use the so-called McDonnell Douglas rule (after a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case called McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792) to decide whether to grant a landlord summary judgment for a fair housing claim. The way it works:
- First, the plaintiffs must make out a “prima facie” case of discrimination;
- If the plaintiffs meet that burden, it creates a presumption that discrimination occurred that the landlord can rebut by showing that it had a nondiscriminatory reason for engaging in the action;
- If the landlord rebuts the presumption, the plaintiff can still survive summary dismissal and get to court by showing that the landlord’s nondiscriminatory reason was just a pretext for discrimination.
THE SCORECARD CASES AND 7 KEY LESSONS
We found 15 reported 2021 cases in which a court had to decide whether a housing provider committed housing discrimination against a rental prospect or tenant. Of these, the landlord was found liable in eight and not liable in six, and there was one split decision. Here’s a breakdown of the key cases and their practical significance.
Lesson #1: Landlord May Be Liable for Tenant-on-Tenant Harassment
Landlords are clearly liable for the sexual, racial, and other discriminatory harassment committed by their employees and other agents. But does that liability extend to third parties they don’t directly control?
Situation: A tenant directs a steady stream of racial and ethnic harassment against her neighbors. The abuse is mostly oral, but it’s constant and egregious, including a steady diet of the “N” word and other appalling nicknames and epithets. Despite constant complaints, the homeowners association doesn’t do anything to stop her. A local fair housing advocacy organization sues the association for racial harassment.
You Make the Call: Does the organization have a valid harassment claim against the association?
Ruling: The Indiana federal court rules that the organization has a valid legal claim for harassment and rejects the association’s motion for summary judgment [Fair Hous. Ctr. of Cent. Ind., Inc. v. Vicki New, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 241159, 2021 WL 5988397].
Takeaway: While the courts have split on the issue, the Vicki ruling follows the majority view that a landlord may be directly liable for discrimination by a tenant against another tenant, if it:
- Knows or should know of the conduct;
- Is in a position to take action to stop the harassment—as the homeowners association was in this case; and
- Doesn’t take any action to curb the harassment.
Lesson #2: OK to Request Information About a Disability to Verify Need for Accommodation
Nearly half of the Scorecard cases address a landlord’s FHA duty to make reasonable accommodations. In most of these cases, the requested accommodation was purportedly necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and public and common use areas. The Scorecard cases offer insight into how far the duty to accommodate goes, including a key case out of Kentucky that sheds light on a landlord’s right to verify the requestor’s disability and need for the accommodation.
Situation: A tenant claims she needs an emotional support animal for a mental disability and asks the homeowners association board for an exemption from the community’s no-pet policy. Since the tenant’s disability isn’t readily apparent, the board asks her for verification. She provides a medical note listing her diagnosis. Although the disease is an officially recognized illness, the board wants more information about the disability and how it affects her “major life activities.” When she refuses to provide the information, it moves to evict her.
You Make the Call: Did the board’s request for more information about the disability go too far?
Ruling: The Kentucky court dismisses the tenant’s failure-to-accommodate lawsuit without a trial. The tenant’s disability wasn’t obvious, and the board had a legitimate right to request additional information about its impact on her ability to engage in “major life activities” in making an accommodations decision [Commonwealth Comm'n on Human Rights v. Fincastle Heights Mut. Ownership Corp., 633 S.W.3d 808, 2021 Ky. App. LEXIS 104, 2021 WL 4484981].
Takeaway: Although you’re not allowed to ask privacy-invasive questions about a person’s disabilities, HUD guidelines give landlords leeway to gather limited information in response to a reasonable accommodations request to the extent the information is necessary to determine three things:
- The person meets the FHA definition of disability—that is, has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
- Exactly what accommodation is being requested; and
- Whether there’s a “nexus” or relationship between the disability and the need for the requested accommodation.
Lesson #3: Duty to Make Reasonable Accommodations Doesn’t Require New Service Offerings
The basic rule is that landlords must make reasonable accommodations to the point of undue hardship. Most of the Scorecard accommodations cases were decided on the basis of reasonableness, including an Arizona case posing the question of whether it’s reasonable to expect a landlord to introduce a whole new service or activity for a tenant with disabilities.
Situation: A fair housing organization sues an assisted housing facility that offers elderly residents limited housekeeping and communal dining but no medical services for denying two accommodations to a deaf rental prospect:
- Providing him with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter; and
- Installing a strobe doorbell outside his unit.
You Make the Call: Which, if either refusal, violates the facility’s duty to make reasonable accommodations?
Answer: Only the refusal to provide the doorbell violates the facility’s duty to make reasonable accommodations.
Ruling: The Arizona federal court renders a split decision. It grants the facility summary judgment on the ASL interpreter claim but okays trial on the doorbell claim [Southwest Fair Hous. Council v. WG Chandler Villas SH LLC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53677, 2021 WL 1087200].
Takeaway: Accommodations aren’t reasonable if they require landlords to provide fundamental changes to their services or assume undue financial burdens. The request for an interpreter is unreasonable because it requires the facility to establish a new service it didn’t offer any of its tenants. But the doorbell was relatively cheap to install and required no changes to the facility’s service offerings.
Lesson #4: You Don’t Have to Break the Law to Accommodate a Tenant
A somewhat odd case out of California illustrates another important qualifier of the landlord’s duty to provide a requested accommodation.
Situation: A tenant with “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” (EHS), which causes him to be physically and neurologically affected by radiofrequency emissions from cell phone equipment, asks the city to remove a cell tower near his unit. The city refuses, noting that the tower’s placement is based on requirements of federal environmental law. So, the tenant sues the city and homeowners association for disability discrimination.
You Make the Call: Does the tenant have a valid claim for failure to accommodate?
Ruling: The California federal court grants summary judgment to the defendants. Even if EHS is a “qualifying disability” under the FHA, the request to remove the cell tower isn’t a “reasonable accommodation” because it would force the city to violate the environmental law [Wolf v. City of Millbrae, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159025, 2021 WL 3727072].
Takeaway: You don’t have to provide accommodations that would require violating laws or lease obligations to other tenants. However, you should explore alternatives that would satisfy the requestor’s needs without violating laws or contractual obligations. There were no such alternatives available in the Wolf case.
COACH’s Tip: You need only grant requested accommodations that are reasonable. According to HUD, a request for an accommodation is reasonable if it:
- Doesn’t cause landlords to incur an undue financial and administrative burden;
- Doesn’t cause a basic or fundamental change in the nature of the housing program available;
- Won’t cause harm or damage to others; and
- Isn’t technologically impossible.
To that list, you can add a request that doesn’t force the landlord to violate a valid law or contractual obligation.
Lesson #5: Service Animals Are Subject to Reasonable Community Rules
Exempting a disabled tenant’s service animal from a no-pets policy is a common kind of reasonable accommodation. But a Florida case deals with what a landlord can do when those accepted service animals create a nuisance for other tenants.
Situation: A condo association with a no-pets policy lets a tenant keep two service dogs to accommodate his disability. After several years of good behavior, the dogs turn into incessant barkers who disturb their neighbors. The association orders the tenant to get rid of them or face eviction.
You Make the Call: Did the association violate its FHA duty to accommodate the tenant?
Ruling: The Florida state court refuses to grant the tenant an injunction to block the association from enforcing the rule, and the federal court upholds the ruling on procedural grounds [Mercier v. Turnberry Isle S. Condo. Ass’n, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 243301].
Takeaway: Even service animals that are reasonably necessary to enable disabled prospects and tenants an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and public and common use areas must behave and not create an unreasonable nuisance for other tenants. The broader point is that the FHA duty to accommodate reasonable requests for service animals doesn’t preclude you from enforcing rules necessary to ensure your other residents a quiet, clean, and healthy community.
Lesson #6: Seemingly Neutral Credit Score Requirements May Discriminate
While enforcing legitimate and nondiscriminatory rental and community policies is allowed, an Oregon case serves as a reminder how policies that look neutral on their face may still be illegal if they have the effect of excluding people the FHA protects.
Situation: A landlord rejects a black prospect with a credit score of 680 because her husband’s credit score is below the community’s 600 minimum. After the prospect sends the landlord an eloquent letter complaining about the “inequitable” credit score policy and its impact on “marginalized communities,” the landlord reaches out and tries to negotiate an arrangement with her. But she never sees the email. Testers later gather evidence suggesting that the landlord applies the policy selectively to exclude minorities. And even though she never actually applies for a rental, the prospect sues for racial discrimination.
You Make the Call: Did the landlord’s credit score minimum policy discriminate?
Ruling: The Oregon federal court says the prospect can sue the landlord for “adopting a policy that disproportionately makes housing unavailable to African-Americans.” True, the prospect never actually applied, but based on the testers’ evidence, the court agreed that applying would have just been a “futile gesture” [Owens v. Latitude Props., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61054].
Takeaway: Rental policies and practices that appear neutral on their face may be illegal if they have the effect of discriminating against a protected group. This is true even if there’s no intent to discriminate. For example, statistics show that African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates than whites with respect to their share of the general population. Thus, while categorically refusing to rent to any person with a criminal record may look like a legitimate safety policy, it has the effect of discriminating against African Americans and Hispanics.
Lesson #7: Fair Housing Laws Protect Victims of Domestic Violence
The disparate impact rule also opens the door for groups that the FHA doesn’t list as protected classes to sue for housing discrimination, as illustrated by an important case from Pennsylvania.
Situation: A domestic violence victim tells her landlord that she’s being stalked by her ex-boyfriend and needs to move out. When the landlord refuses to let her out of the lease, she sues for discrimination and failure to accommodate. The landlord asks the court to dismiss the case because domestic violence victims aren’t a protected class under the FHA.
You Make the Call: Does the tenant have a legally valid claim for FHA discrimination?
Ruling: The Pennsylvania federal court rejects summary judgment for the landlord and allows the case to go to trial, citing well-established case law finding that the FHA does protect victims of domestic violence given its disproportionate impact on women and minorities [Butler v. Sundo Capital, LLC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171736, 2021 WL 4134034].
Takeaway: There are three important morals to take from the Butler case:
- Domestic violence victims can sue for housing discrimination under the FHA (as well as many state laws, including Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin);
- Zero-tolerance policies that lump victims and purveyors of domestic violence together for adverse treatment is a form of discrimination the law prohibits; and
- Protection for domestic violence victims may include allowing them out of their lease early without penalty if they must move out to avoid threatened violence.
Here’s a summary of the reported 2021 court cases in which a landlord was sued for discrimination under the FHA or state fair housing law.
(Cases 1 to 7)
1. Accommodation Doesn’t Require Providing a Fundamentally New Service
What Happened: An Arizona fair housing advocacy organization sues an assisted housing facility that provides housekeeping and dining services to elderly tenants for refusing to provide an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for a deaf prospect.
Ruling: The Arizona federal court dismissed the claim without a trial because the facility didn’t provide interpreter services for any of its tenants and reasonable accommodations don’t require landlords to provide fundamental changes to their services [Southwest Fair Hous. Council v. WG Chandler Villas SH LLC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53677, 2021 WL 1087200].
2. OK to Enforce Nondiscriminatory Community Rules
What Happened: A tenant evicted for moving into a neighboring apartment in the same building with a family to which he’s unrelated without permission sues for racial discrimination. The landlord denies the charge and claims it evicted him for not following the required procedure to get permission to move to another unit.
Ruling: The Texas federal court finds that the landlord’s enforcement of its transfer policy was a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason to evict and that there’s no evidence race factored into the decision [Mandawala v. Struga Mgmt., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131736, 2021 WL 2981196].
3. Alleged Victim Has Burden of Proving Disability
What Happened: A social worker sues an apartment community for failing to accommodate her supposedly disabled client who’s a tenant in the building.
Ruling: The Texas federal court tosses the case because the social worker didn’t meet the burden of proving the tenant was disabled. The complaint “vaguely” referred to the tenant’s “mental condition” but didn’t identify or describe the nature of his mental disability [Payne v. Midcrown Pavilion Apts. & Amy Carrillo, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161442, 2021 WL 3813378]
4. Service Animals Must Follow Community Rules
What Happened: After years of accommodating them, a condo community with a no-pets policy orders a disabled tenant to get rid of his two service dogs in response to neighbors’ complaints about their excessive barking. When a state court refuses to block the order, the tenant asks a federal court to let him keep the dogs.
Ruling: In a ruling based on procedure rather than substance, the Florida federal court says it lacks authority to overturn the state court’s decision [Mercier v. Turnberry Isle S. Condo. Ass’n, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 243301].
5. Accommodations Forcing Landlord to Violate the Law Are Unreasonable
What Happened: A tenant with “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” (EHS), which causes him to be physically and neurologically affected by radiofrequency emissions from cell phone equipment, sues a homeowners association and city for not removing a cell tower near his unit.
Ruling: The California federal court dismisses the claim without a trial because even if EHS is a “qualifying disability,” the request to remove the cell tower isn’t a “reasonable accommodation” because it would force the city to violate federal law requiring that the tower be stationed where it is for environmental reasons [Wolf v. City of Millbrae, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159025, 2021 WL 3727072].
6. OK to Ask Tenant About Disability to Verify Her Need for Service Dog
What Happened: A homeowners’ board with a no-pet policy asks a tenant for documentation of her need for an emotional support animal. She provides a medical note listing her diagnosis. While the disease is an officially recognized illness, the board wants more information about her disability and how it affects her “major life activities.” When she refuses to provide the information, it moves to kick her out of the association.
Ruling: The Kentucky court rejects her failure-to-accommodate lawsuit. The tenant’s disability wasn’t obvious, and the board had a legitimate right to request additional information about its effects in making an accommodations decision [Commonwealth Comm'n on Human Rights v. Fincastle Heights Mut. Ownership Corp., 633 S.W.3d 808, 2021 Ky. App. LEXIS 104, 2021 WL 4484981].
7. Circumstantial Evidence Not Enough to Make a Case for Discrimination
What Happened: A would-be home buyer asks a real estate agent to represent her, but he declines because he’s “too busy.” She sues him for racial, disability, and family status discrimination.
Ruling: There’s no evidence of discrimination, the Oregon federal court rules, other than the agent’s delay in responding to her request, his refusal, and the supposed “funny look” she claimed he gave her when they met [Macon v. Proud Ground Org., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143910, 2021 WL 3354157].
(Cases 8 to 16)
8. Circumstantial Evidence Enough to Make a Discrimination Case
What Happened: A leasing agent sets up a face-to-face meeting with a prospect who’s financially qualified and expresses strong interest in an apartment. But the moment they meet, the agent, who’s white, tells the applicant, who’s black, that he forgot his keys and has to go home and get them. Literally two minutes later, the agent calls the prospect to say that “something’s come up” and asks him to reschedule. The prospect leaves a voicemail repeating his interest in the unit and sends an email hoping to schedule a showing for the next day. But the agent never responds or tries to contact him to follow up.
Ruling: Based on these facts, the Virginia court finds enough evidence for the prospect to take his racial discrimination case to trial. The prospect was ready, willing, and able to rent, and it was almost impossible to infer that the agent’s evasiveness was due to anything other than his race [Commonwealth ex rel. Fair Hous. Bd. v. Fountain Hope (2004) Ltd. P’ship, 2021 Va. Cir. LEXIS 44].
9. Refusal to Install Strobe Doorbell for Deaf Tenant Is Failure to Accommodate
What Happened: An Arizona fair housing advocacy organization sues an assisted housing facility that provides housekeeping and dining services to elderly tenants for refusing to provide a strobe doorbell for a deaf prospect.
Ruling: The Arizona federal court allows the case to go to trial, finding that a flashing doorbell is a reasonable accommodation since it imposes no fundamental alteration or undue financial or administrative burdens [Southwest Fair Hous. Council v. WG Chandler Villas SH LLC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53677, 2021 WL 1087200].
10. Not Letting Social Security Recipient Pay Rent Late Is Failure to Accommodate
What Happened: A disabled tenant asks his landlord for permission to pay rent after he receives his Social Security Disability Income (SSD) benefits on the second Wednesday of the month. The landlord refuses and then seeks to evict him for not paying late fees.
Ruling: The California federal court says the tenant has a valid case for failure to accommodate. The landlord knew of the tenant’s disability and there was enough evidence to suggest that paying rent late was a reasonable accommodation [Galia v. Wasatch Advantage Grp. LLC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73982, 2021 WL 1516372].
11. Seemingly Neutral Credit Score Policy May Discriminate Against Minorities
What Happened: A black prospect with a credit score of 680 is rejected because her husband’s credit score is well below the community’s 600 minimum. After she complains about the “inequitable” credit score policy, the community reaches out and tries to negotiate an arrangement with her. But she never sees the email and sues for racial discrimination, even though she never actually applied for an apartment.
Ruling: The Oregon federal court says the prospect can sue the landlord for “adopting a policy that disproportionately makes housing unavailable to African-Americans.” True, the prospect never applied, but based on evidence gathered by testers suggesting the landlord applied the policy in a discriminatory way, applying would have just been a “futile gesture” [Owens v. Latitude Props., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61054].
12. Not Letting Domestic Violence Victim Out of Lease Is Discrimination
What Happened: A domestic violence victim tells her landlord that she’s being stalked by her ex-boyfriend and needs to move out. When the landlord refuses to let her out of the lease, she sues for discrimination and failure to accommodate. The landlord asks the court to dismiss the case because domestic violence victim isn’t a protected class under the FHA.
Ruling: The Pennsylvania federal court nixes the landlord’s motion and allows the case to go to trial, citing well-established case law finding that the FHA does protect victims of domestic violence given its disproportionate impact on women and minorities. And a zero-tolerance policy that lumps victims and purveyors of domestic violence together for adverse treatment is a form of discrimination the law prohibits [Butler v. Sundo Capital, LLC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171736, 2021 WL 4134034].
13. Ignoring Disabled Tenant’s Request for Assigned Parking Is Discrimination
What Happened: A disabled tenant and a fair housing organization sue a condo association for not even considering the former’s accommodation request for an assigned parking space.
Ruling: The Illinois federal court rules that the tenant has a legally valid claim for disability discrimination and that the organization has legal status, or “standing,” to participate in the lawsuit [Nawrocki v. Oak Brook Towers Condo. Ass’n, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33441, 2021 WL 698485].
14. Landlord Can Be Liable for Tenant-on-Tenant Harassment
What Happened: A fair housing organization sues a homeowners’ association for failing to take action to put a stop to a homeowner’s longstanding and very public display of targeting her neighbors for racial and ethnic harassment.
Ruling: The association denies responsibility for the behavior of its residents, but the Indiana federal court disagrees, citing cases finding that a “defendant may be held directly liable” for discrimination by a third party where it knows or should know of the conduct, is in a position to take actions to correct it and fails to do so [Fair Hous. Ctr. of Cent. Ind., Inc. v. Vicki New, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 241159, 2021 WL 5988397].
15. Landlord May Have to Pay Fair Housing Organization’s Attorneys’ Fees
What Happened: A prospect sues a provider of student housing for excluding families with children. The fair housing organization that performed testing gets permission to participate in the case. Then, when the case settles, the organization asks the court to award it over $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. While the FHA allows for winners of fair housing cases to collect attorneys’ fees from the loser, the provider claims the organization played only a marginal role in the case.
Ruling: The Hawaii federal court gives the organization most of what it wants, namely, $81,740 in attorneys’ fees. While acknowledging that the case would have been brought even without the organization’s participation, the court says that it made a valuable contribution and that cutting it out of attorneys’ fees would discourage other fair housing organizations from intervening in cases [United States v. Haw. Student Suites, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138214, 2021 WL 3134925]
16. Landlord Who Doesn’t Show Up for Trial Hit with $95,000 in Damages
What Happened: A black prospect called a fair housing group to complain about an owner who allegedly used the “N” word and told her, “You sound black and I don’t rent to black people.” Black testers sent to the property got pretty much the same basic treatment. The group sued, but the owner didn’t show up for the proceeding.
Ruling: Sweeping aside the defense lawyers’ claim of “innocent mistake,” the California federal court issued a default judgment against the owner and ordered her to pay over $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees [Project Sentinel v. Komar, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105680, 2021 WL 2284462].