Rental company faces discrimination suit

By David J. Coehrs -

The parent company of a rental development in Swanton is being sued for discrimination by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for allegedly refusing to consider the religious practices of a Muslim tenant.

A court case is pending against Woda Cooper Companies, Inc. of Columbus, which oversees Paigelynn Place LLC. The latter company operates rental properties at Paigelynn Place, off of West Airport Highway in Swanton. No trial date has been scheduled.

According to a complaint filed in Fulton County Common Pleas Court on May 30, the OCRC contends Woda Cooper is guilty of discrimination for refusing to consider a conciliatory solution to a dispute based on the religious beliefs of Paigelynn Place tenant Mahala Abwini. Abwini, who lived in the rental property with her three young children and an adult son, filed a discrimination complaint with the OCRC on Feb. 6, 2018.

She said on Nov. 27, 2017, she received a notice from Paigelynn Place management that a routine canine bedbug inspection of her rental property would take place the following month. Trained dogs are sometimes used to detect bedbug infestations.

Abwini informed the management that Muslim religious doctrine prohibits dogs in the home, and that a dog’s presence would also compromise the condition of her disabled child. She requested an inspection without a dog.

Woda Cooper, which pays for the inspections, denied Abwini’s request unless she agreed to pay the extra cost of a non-canine inspection.

The tenant informed management the following Dec. 5 that its pest control contractor would perform the inspection without a dog and at no extra cost, but required Woda Cooper’s authorization. The company refused, and the contractor was denied entrance to the home about a week later when they attempted the inspection at Abwini’s residence, according to court documents.

On Jan. 3, 2018, Abwini received a 30-day notice to vacate the premises because she refused the inspection. She and her family left the property Jan. 30 to avoid eviction.

The OCRC charged that, by failing to accommodate Abwini’s household with a reasonable request for a non-canine inspection, Woda-Cooper violated Ohio Revised Code 4112.02 by discriminating because of disability. The complaint includes a demand for compensatory damages based on injury and economic loss Adwini suffered due to Woda Cooper’s violations. They could include attorney’s fees and costs, out-of-pocket expenses, the difference in rental costs, and restitution for emotional distress.

David O’Neil, spokesperson for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, said the OCRC’s position is that the landlord could have taken conciliatory measures to accommodate Abwini’s religious beliefs. The agency sent Woda Cooper and Paigelynn Place LLC a proposed conciliation agreement and consent order in November of 2018 and encouraged them to find a non-litigious solution.

Neither signed the agreement or consent order.

“We always attempt to resolve these situations informally,” he said. He said it’s too early to predict an outcome for the case.

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.