A De Pere family with high-risk autistic children can now build their backyard fence, a judge ruled.
Attorney Rock Pledl represented Lisa and Michael Newman after Nazcr Trac Property Owners Association refused their request to build a reasonable accommodation fence to allow their autistic children to safely play in their backyard.
Judge William C. Griesbach of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, has ordered a preliminary injunction that prohibits the Association from enforcing its “no fence” rule in the plaintiff’s subdivision, according to a release from the Metropolitan Fair Housing Council.
The preliminary injunction results from a lawsuit filed on August 11, 2021 by the Newmans, who own a home in the subdivision managed by the Association. The Newmans reside in the home with their four young children. The three oldest children have been diagnosed with autism and are unable to understand dangerous situations or assess their own safety, requiring extra supervision to prevent them from running way.
The Newmans wrote the Association president, Kevin Burt, in July 2019 and in December 2020 and asked for permission to build a fence around their backyard as a reasonable accommodation to the subdivision’s “no fence” rule. They provided him with a publication that explained the legal obligation to consider a reasonable accommodation request. They also submitted letters from medical professionals that verified the children’s disabilities and their need for an enclosed place to play. Under state and federal fair housing laws, reasonable accommodations must be granted to persons with disabilities when such an accommodation enables the resident to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing. According to the release, Burt never followed up with the Newmans regarding any decision made by the Association in 2019, but the Association sent a letter after the December 2020 request indicating they would not adjust the rules and fences could not be built in green spaces, never specifically addressing the Newmans actual request.
The Newmans contacted the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC). MMFHC staff conducted intake of complaints from the Newmans, and counseled them on their fair housing rights and options for legal remedy. MMFHC made a formal referral to Pledl, who serves on MMFHC’s Panel of Cooperating Attorneys.
With Pledl’s assistance, the Newmans filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the Association and Kevin Burt had discriminated based on disability, in violation of the Fair Housing Amendments Act, by wrongfully denying requests to build a backyard fence as reasonable accommodation.
While the lawsuit will continue, Judge Griesbach’s preliminary injunction means that the Newmans may proceed with installing a fence, and that their children may play safely in their yard this summer.
Pledl is a shareholder at the Milwaukee firm, Davis & Pledl. The firm represents individuals and families in cases involving services for children and adults with disabilities including special education. A graduate of John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Pledl practices disability and civil rights law with a focus on discrimination in housing, education and public services based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or race.