A 20-year-old Huntington Beach man will have to move from a condominium he shares with his ailing great-grandmother under an appellate ruling that allows retirement communities for the elderly to bar younger residents.
The 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, in a ruling lawyers said could set a statewide precedent, held that California law legitimately exempts retirement communities from anti-discrimination ordinances in allowing them to cater to the special needs of the elderly.
The court, in its opinion handed down last week, in effect cleared the way for the eviction of Shane Shermoen, who family members say has helped care for his great-grandmother for the last decade at the Huntington Landmark Adult Community Assn. on Oakridge Lane.
Huntington Landmark, a 1,238-unit retirement community built in the early 1970s with special access ways and other features for the elderly, declared itself an enclave for those over the age of 55. But community leaders met with resistance from the Shermoens and a few other homeowners who wanted to live with younger relatives.
"We're all very disappointed," said Shermoen family attorney James R. Goff of Orange. "This means (Shane Shermoen) will have to find a new place to live, assuming this ruling holds up." The family may still consider further appeals, he said.
Lawrence Shermoen, owner of the condominium where his grandson, Shane, had lived, said Tuesday, "I've been pretty upset by the whole thing. And I'm checking to see what we can do about (the ruling) now."
He said his grandson "has been so upset about the way he has been treated, he can't even talk about it. He doesn't understand how people can be so inhuman."
Despite reports from condominium managers that the young man had moved from the complex, Lawrence Shermoen said his grandson still shares a home with his grandmother. Shane Shermoen declined to be interviewed.
Goff, describing the ruling as the first in the state to allow an eviction based on age, added: "This sets up a fairly strong elite class that's invulnerable to any kind of diversity."
But Huntington Landmark officials saw the ruling as a crucial affirmation of their ability to define the character of their community--and to take active steps to maintain that character.
"Our community is designed for senior citizens, plain and simple," said homeowners' association president Dale Caufield.
The presence of younger people--using the facilities, biking and skating on roadways at higher speeds than residents desire, and bringing over friends--poses "a different type of peril on our streets. It's just a different life style," he said.
Huntington Landmark general manager Sandy Meyer-Dix added: "This establishes clearly that we are a seniors' community.
"All the other senior communities around the state of California have been actively following our case and anxiously waiting to see how it turns out," Meyer-Dix said. "I think they're all going to be very happy."
The appellate court, focusing its discussion specifically on elderly communities, did not address any implications its interpretation of state laws may have on related housing issues, such as disputes that have arisen over children in mobile parks.
Lawyers in the case and others familiar with housing law would not speculate on any broader impact.
Presiding Justice Harmon G. Scoville, who wrote the opinion, said in an interview: "I think it's a unique case, an important one, but I really can't say anymore because we may have further motions on it."
In his ruling, Scoville upheld a 1987 decision by Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter W. Charamza and declared that the Huntington Landmark complex fits "clearly within the definition of a senior citizen housing development" as described in a 1985 state statute.
That statute carved out an exemption from anti-discrimination housing laws in allowing senior citizen communities to restrict themselves to people over the age of 55. The Huntington Landmark facility originally had barred anyone under 40, but raised that limit once the 1985 statute was passed.
The Court of Appeal, citing similar federal exemptions for senior citizens, also rejected claims by the Shermoen family that the Huntington Landmark policy marked a clear violation of the federal Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988.
Lawrence Shermoen bought two units at the Huntington Landmark facility, living in one with his wife and using the other as residence for his ailing mother-in-law, Emma DeHaven, and his grandson, Shane. Family members maintained that Shane helped greatly to care for his great-grandmother, who was increasingly ill with heart and other problems.
Just what impact the appellate ruling will have on Shane Shermoen's living circumstances remained unclear Tuesday. The family attorney and the young man's grandmother said Shane Shermoen still lives at Huntington Landmark and that the ruling would likely mean his eviction if the family does not pursue an appeal.
The condominium he shared with his great-grandmother has been sold and the two had earlier moved in with Lawrence Shermoen, the family said.
Appealing the community's policy along with the Shermoens were an elderly couple who moved into the complex in 1983 with their 21-year-old daughter. But that part of the case was declared moot by the court because the young woman had since married and moved out.