The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. has filed a lawsuit against DC Housing Authority, the city itself, and building manager CIH Properties over allegations that employees of the authority violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, threatening the health and safety of an elderly, deaf tenant.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court on Aug. 30, alleges that a “profoundly deaf” tenant of Ward 2’s Claridge Towers was unable to access health services in a timely fashion after complaining to her son that she experienced problems breathing.
The tenant, 77-year-old Army veteran Evelyn Arthur, relies on a “video relay system” hooked up to a television in her bedroom to communicate with friends and family. (The system connects both Arthur and the hearing person to a trained sign-language interpreter, a service paid for by the Federal Communications Commission.)
Building manager CIH Properties had, for months, allowed Arthur’s son, Robert—her primary caretaker—to visit her without having the front desk call via the video system. But in January of 2017, CIH allegedly rescinded that accommodation. The suit alleges that Robert verbally complained to management about this change, since Evelyn can only see incoming calls when she is in her bedroom and looking directly at the television.
Months later, in June, Evelyn called her son to complain of breathing issues, the suit alleges. But when Robert went to his mother’s apartment, the security guard was unable to reach her by phone.
“In fear for his mother’s health and well-being, Mr. Arthur nevertheless went to his mother’s apartment to check on her,” the suit says. “He promptly returned with her to the lobby, where she confirmed that she had called him in medical distress and had asked him to come over right away. Despite explicit identification of and approval from Ms. Arthur for her son’s visitation, [the security guard] called CIH Properties and the DCHA police, seeking the issuance of a ‘Bar Notice’ barring Mr. Arthur from entering Claridge Towers.”
When one member of the housing authority’s police department determined that a bar notice wasn’t warranted, the security guard on duty—who is also named in the ACLU’s suit—called a DCHA police sergeant, who reportedly ordered the issuance of a bar notice without having responded to the scene or communicating with either Arthur or her son.
“D.C. police officers … failed to accommodate Ms. Arthur’s disability and used excessive force against her. As a result, Plaintiffs have suffered grievous harm at the hands of the Defendants,” the suit says.
Further, the suit alleges that Evelyn Arthur wrote two letters to CIH and DCHA, asking them to rescind the bar notice. “Her letter pointed out that her son was her only family in Washington and ‘the only person I have to help me,’” it says.
Not only did she not receive a response to that letter, the suit alleges, but she also received a notice from Claridge Towers later in June “informing her that a Bar Notice had been issued against Robert Arthur, effective from June 17 to Aug. 17, 2017, and that she could be evicted and subject to proceedings in landlord-tenant court if she were to permit Mr. Arthur to enter her home or Claridge Towers.”
In an emailed response, DCHA spokesperson Rick White says, “Like all DCHA residents, we have attempted to meet her requests for accommodations. DCHA will continue to respond to her requests, subject to any laws or prohibitions applicable to her or her son.”
CIH Properties, Inc. President Kevin P. O’Malley says, “CIH Properties, Inc. has worked in concert with DCHA and Ms. Arthur, in view of all applicable regulations and laws, to accommodate Ms. Arthur and continues to be willing to take whatever steps are appropriate to assist her in meeting her needs.”
The suit alleges that the offices of both Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Housing Authority Director Tyrone Garrett were notified of the alleged incident on December 15, 2017. DCHA oversees a portfolio of 56 public housing properties and is the landlord of about 20,000 public housing residents.
CIH Properties has been cited before by the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs for housing code violations.
This article has been updated to reflect the print version.