Civil rights

Greenwich can stop violating civil rights laws with a simple trick: do nothing

Greenwich violates state and federal civil rights laws. It subjects taxpayers to millions of dollars in potential legal liability. And it maintains a backward policy that infringes on property rights, drives up inflation, and discriminates against families and young people. But luckily, Greenwich can make those challenges go away with a simple trick: do nothing.

Let me back up and explain. For decades, Greenwich has allowed landlords to build secondary suites – also known as granny flats, in-laws or second homes – on their property. This type of housing provides a flexible and affordable housing option for renters and provides homeowners with additional income. I would know: I loved living in a secondary suite after college, and my landlord loved the extra income.

Unfortunately, Greenwich imposes heavy restrictions on secondary suites, requiring landlords to certify that they will only be rented to elderly, disabled or low-income tenants. This limitation may seem like a good idea, but it is a terrible policy. It forces owners to place a deed restriction on their property, which reduces its value. It further requires owners to submit annual certifications to the city in perpetuity, a pervasive headache. And this leads to absurd results. For one thing, my parents might rent a secondary suite on our property to certain people, but it’s illegal for their own children to live there. For two, if an owner’s elderly relative lives in one and dies, the owner must rent it to a stranger or destroy the apartment. No wonder less than 70 secondary suites have been built in Greenwich in 35 years!

Political objections aside, Greenwich’s ordinance is illegal. Some legal questions are ambiguous, subject to debate, without clear answers. This is not one of those legal questions. State and federal fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on age and marital status, respectively. By setting an age limit for accessory apartments, the Greenwich ordinance clearly violates fair housing laws. Although these laws provide an exemption for elderly housing, they fall far short of covering the Greenwich Ordinance. Just as a male-only or white-only restriction would violate civil rights laws, so would a seniors-only restriction.

Greenwich’s flagrant violation of civil rights laws exposes the city and its ratepayers to significant legal liability. Several Connecticut towns have recently paid large sums to address Fair Housing Act violations: In the past year alone, Cromwell has been forced to pay more than $5 millionwhile Fairfield and Wolcott shelled out $1,500,000 and $360,000 respectively in the colonies. Beyond those payments, cities are also responsible for their own parties’ and opposing parties’ attorney fees — which could run into the hundreds of thousands or millions — if they lose or settle those cases. Greenwich can’t cross his fingers and hopes he gets away with violating civil rights laws. When this order is challenged, Greenwich will lose; it will owe plaintiffs and lawyers everywhere enormous sums of money; and he will have to change his policy.

The solution to this problem is simple: allow tenants of all ages to live in secondary suites. Even better, Greenwich don’t have to do anything to make this change. The Greenwich ordinance is expected to be preempted by state law later this year that will erase Greenwich’s occupancy restrictions. The only way Greenwich politics will stay in place is if a two-thirds supermajority of the Representative Municipal Assembly votes to “opt out” of this state law. Bafflingly, the RTM is taking a vote to do just that on September 18.

If more than a third of the RTM rejects this proposal, Greenwich will no longer violate civil rights laws. It will restore property rights to owners. And it will tell people of all ages – including young people like me, who grew up here and love this city – that it’s no longer illegal for us to live in the only kind of housing we can afford here. .

On September 18, RTM members of all political stripes must unite in favor of the rule of law, property rights and common sense by voting against the continuation of Greenwich’s discriminatory secondary suite policy.

Nick Abbott is a resident of Greenwich and a member of the advocacy group Desegregate CT.