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Group Home for Disabled Residents Protected by Federal Law

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Group home for disabled residents

Last week an Arizona court ruled that an upscale housing subdivision may not exclude a group home for disabled residents. The Court of Appeals’ “memorandum” decision did not establish a binding precedent. Still, it represents a significant step in supporting the rights of the disabled.

The subdivision

Montana Ranch (sometimes Montaña Ranch) is a deed-restricted subdivision in the northeast corner of Scottsdale, Arizona. In order to maintain its residential character in perpetuity, in 1985 the developers created Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) that apply to all homes in the subdivision. The developers amended the CC&Rs in 1997.

Today the subdivision is an upscale development in an upscale neighborhood. A quick look online for properties in Montana Ranch suggests that most are 3-4,000 square feet, 4-6 bedrooms, and priced at just below or above $1 million.

Like many residential subdivisions, Montana Ranch regulates the use its residents may make of their properties. One key restriction: no resident can conduct commercial activities on their property. The CC&Rs also mandated that every property must be used by a “single family unit.”

In 2016 Edmond and Kelly Beaith, owners of a Montana Ranch home, leased their property to a behavioral health agency. That entity wanted to operate a residential treatment center in the Beaith’s home. The Montana Ranch Homeowners Association ordered them to close the facility.

Fair Housing

After they received a cease-and-desist letter from the homeowners association, Mr. and Mrs. Beaith responded. They argued that federal law superseded the CC&Rs. Specifically, they insisted that the Fair Housing Act applied. And that Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability like drug or alcohol addiction. As a result, a group home for disabled residents could not be locked out of the neighborhood.

Like the better-known Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA), the FHA mandates a consideration of “reasonable accommodations” before permitting an act like Montana Ranch’s. The Beaiths argued that the homeowners association should permit their use of the home. A real estate office and AirBnB rentals operated in the development without complaint, they noted.

The case proceeded to a trial in Arizona’s Maricopa County. Somewhat oddly (but with the parties’ agreement), the court divided the trial into two parts. One part tried by the court and another presented to a jury. After evidence was in, the court ruled that Montana Ranch could preclude the group home for disabled residents. The jury ruled that Montana Ranch had violated the Fair Housing Act.

After that split decision, the trial judge awarded attorneys fees and costs to Montana Ranch. The Beaiths appealed.

Group home for disabled residents permitted

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial judge. The jury’s verdict, said the appellate court, disposed of any argument about the FHA’s application. Montana Ranch could not impose its regulations on a group home for disabled residents.

According to the trial judge, the lease violated the association’s prohibition on commercial use. In fact, the Beaiths violated the commercial use prohibition the moment they signed their lease — and before a single resident with a disability moved into the home.

The appellate court noted that that was exactly what “reasonable accommodation” meant — the association could not assert the commercial restriction as a way of keeping out residents with a disability. The association’s attempt to block the group home for residents with a disability violated the FHA.

The Court of Appeals also set aside the award of attorneys fees to Montana Ranch. Because they were not successful, ruled the appellate court, they could not win their fees and costs. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court order and remanded back to the trial judge for a hearing on whether the Beaiths should be awarded their attorneys fees and costs. Montana Ranch v. Beaith, June 30, 2020.

The Montana Ranch case is about substance abuse treatment. The same rules apply, though, to group homes for other types of residents with disabilities. A group home for people with developmental disabilities, or mental health issues, is also entitled to reasonable accommodations.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.