Octogenarian Fights to Stay in Her Own Apartment

Embargoed until:
Tuesday, October 10
at 12 noon PDT

Contact:   Michael Allen
Relman & Associates, PLLC
202/728-1888 (office)
202/277-5551 (cell)

Susan Ann Silverstein
AARP Foundation Litigation
202/434-2159 (office)

Sally Herriot filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in San Jose today, alleging that her retirement community discriminated against her by trying to force her to move from her comfortable, spacious one-bedroom apartment into a small double-occupancy hospital-like room in their assisted living unit, despite the fact that she neither wants nor needs that type of living situation.  Her complaint claims that Channing House has violated the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws, and that Channing House stands to gain nearly $500,000 in new entrance fees from a new resident it would place in her apartment.

After 14 years of living in her own apartment, Mrs. Herriot was surprised and embarrassed to receive letters from Channing House in April and July of this year, telling her that she would no longer be permitted to live in her own apartment and had to move into the institutional part of Channing House where she would give up a large measure of privacy, dignity and autonomy, and be subject to humiliating conditions which are detailed in the complaint.  Her doctor and her family agree that such a move would be harmful to her, both physically and psychologically.

At 88 years of age, Mrs. Herriot still regularly attends performances of the San Francisco Opera and is involved in the community.  As she has grown older and required assistance with some activities of daily living, she has hired private duty aides who know how to assist her without undermining her independence.  Staying in her apartment is an important part of maintaining her quality of life and her psychological wellbeing.

“This is a classic case of a landlord making assumptions that an older woman with some physical limitations can no longer make decisions for herself,” said her lawyer, Michael Allen of Relman & Associates, PLLC, a Washington, D.C.–based civil rights law firm.  “Many retirement communities are running roughshod over the rights of their residents,” he added.  “Mrs. Herriot has taken up this fight for herself and for thousands of other seniors who face similar threats to their independence.”

Susan Ann Silverstein of AARP Foundation Litigation, who is also representing Mrs. Herriot, says:  “AARP supports the national goal of aging in place, which is reflected in the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws and is preferred by an overwhelming majority.  If a retirement community landlord can arbitrarily decide that a resident has to move on, that national policy is very much at risk.” 

Allen and Silverstein have represented a number of other seniors in similar situations in Florida, California and South Carolina and have written extensively on the topic.  They believe that seniors have traditionally been reluctant to challenge authority and assert their rights, but that the tide may be turning.  “Every time someone like Mrs. Herriot steps out into the public eye and says, ‘I won’t stand for this treatment,’ more seniors will feel emboldened to do the same,” says Allen.

“At its very core,” says Silverstein, “this lawsuit is about who gets to decide where Sally Herriot is going to live.  We think it should be Mrs. Herriot, with the support of her family and her doctor, and not a landlord who is motivated by its own financial concerns.”

The lawsuit asks the federal court to block the involuntary transfer and declare it illegal, and to award Mrs. Herriot unspecified monetary damages and attorney’s fees.