Monday, 17 June 2024

State investigates discrimination claim against homeowners association

HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing is investigating a complaint alleging that the Hidden Valley Lake Association has discriminatory rules and practices that especially affect children and families.

In December, Kent Arndt – a stay-at-home father of three and former Hidden Valley Lake Association (HVLA) employee – submitted a complaint to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleging discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act.

HUD accepted Arndt's housing discrimination complaint on May 8, and referred it to the state three days later, according to agency documents.

Annemarie Billotti, a spokesperson for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, confirmed to Lake County News that the complaint – which she called “fairly new” – was now with their agency.

Because the matter is under investigation, Billotti could not offer any specifics about the situation.

Arndt alleged that the Hidden Valley Lake Association's practices are discriminatory against familial status, with rules that are too restrictive toward anyone under age 18.

Specifically, Arndt's claim alleges that the association's rules restrict children ages 13 through 17 from using the tennis courts, and the homeowners association's rules also state that “baby sitting children on the courts is prohibited.”

Arndt, who with his wife Bonnie has three children ages 1 through 7, said he was prohibited from bringing his children with him to the tennis courts on March 22, 2008.

In addition, Arndt alleged that the association's curfew rules are too restrictive toward minors.

The association has a curfew for children under age 18 between 10 p.m. and 6 p.m., which goes beyond the county's curfew for minors, which lasts from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. but also has many exceptions, Arndt said.

Arndt's 7-year-old daughter often visits friends who live three or four blocks away, but on June 25, 2008, Arndt said association officials prohibited his daughter from returning home by herself based on the rules.

The complaint names as respondents the Hidden Valley Lake Association and Jim Johnson, the association's general manager at the time of the complaint. Johnson was succeeded late last month by interim general manager, Charles Foster.

Department of Fair Employment and Housing investigator Michelle Partee was assigned to the case May 21 and has since begun working the case to determine if the association is discriminating against a “protected group” – which includes familial status, according to state law.

Late last month a draft conciliation agreement between Arndt and the association already was submitted to both parties for their consideration.

The terms of the agreement call for:

– Immediately allowing “all common areas of the community to be open to all residents regardless of age,” with possible exceptions for limits on the use of the pool and sauna, where one must be age 14 or older to use them unless supervised by an adult;

– Within 30 days of the full execution of the agreement, amending all rules to remove specific reference to age restrictions regarding the use of amenities, such as specified hours for tennis playing for teenagers and curfew. The association also would need to provide the Department of fair Employment and Housing “with written notification of all rules that have been amended/eliminated and how the residents of the community have been notified regarding the amended rules.”

– Removing all posted community signs which reference age restrictions in the common areas and tennis courts. The association must then submit photographic proof showing the sign(s) before and after removal of language specifying age restrictions within 30 days of the full execution of the agreement.

– Posting and maintaining the Department of Fair Employment and Housing fair housing poster in the clubhouse or association community area; the poster is supposed to be “prominently displayed so as to be readily apparent to all persons seeking and/or enjoying housing accommodations.” Within 30 days of the full execution of the agreement, the association must submit a photograph showing the displayed poster.

Arndt was told that if the complaint can't be worked out through an agreement, the department will complete its investigation and issue a decision on whether there was a violation of the law.

Foster said the association board received the materials last Thursday at their meeting.

“Outside of that they're reviewing it now and we have no other comment to make,” Foster said.

Arndt has lived in Hidden Valley Lake almost seven years, and was the association's activities coordinator from 2004 through 2008. During the course of his employment with HVLA, he spent a lot of time researching state and federal rules and regulations to make sure operations were in legal compliance.

He said questions such as those he raised in his complaint aren't new – similar ones relating to children and restrictions of their use of such facilities as the pool had been broached by other individuals. Such matters, he said, were “always being discussed.”

Arndt said his concerns came to a head after he became a parent – both through guardianship and adoption – in the course of a few years. Then it became evident to him that the rules were particularly restrictive against parents and families.

In February 2006, he informed then-general manager that Rick Archbold that he believed, based on his research, that some of HVLA's age restriction rules were potentially illegal and discriminatory against children, based on fair housing laws.

He said he received no response, and a month later he filed a complaint with HUD, which he later withdrew after the agency encouraged him to try to work it out with the community leadership first.

In November of 2007, the HVLA board reportedly discussed fair housing issues and sent them to their attorney to have the rules rewritten, but they never were, said Arndt.

He and his family filed a formal complaint with the association in May of 2007. He resigned from his job with the association in February of 2008, and three months later he and Bonnie took the matter to the association board of directors, where it was tabled.

“We followed the process and it went nowhere,” he said.

Eventually, after researching the matter further, he decided to take it to the government agencies. “For two years I've tried to bring this to the place where we are now, which is, 'Let's talk about this,'” said Arndt.

Arndt said Partee, who is acting as a go-between, has been candid in telling him that if the complaint process doesn't work there are other departments and agencies that might be able to affect some change. There's also civil court.

Billotti said when there is a complaint of discrimination against a homeowners association, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing has jurisdiction.

“We only deal with discrimination complaints,” she said.

Arndt acknowledged that homeowners associations often have their own rules, which he said he understands is “part of the experience” which helps protect the association against liability. But he alleges that state and federal law puts boundaries on what homeowners associations can do.

While Hidden Valley Lake got its start in the 1960s as a community marketed toward retirees and summer residents, it's since become a community filled with families, which Arndt suggested has been a difficult transition for some people and has resulted in resentment.

Arndt believes that the rules may be contributing toward a sense of prejudice toward families, which he said isn't good for promoting Hidden Valley Lake's community spirit.

“I believe Hidden Valley Lake can be a better, more enjoyable and more friendly community if these rules are fixed,” he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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