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June 1, 2006

Deaf man must find housing

From: St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg,FL,USA - Jun 1, 2006

A judge denieshis request to stay in his apartment, but the owners say they will give him some time.


TAMPA - A judge refused to grant an order allowing Rusty Ackerman to stay in his apartment, but the deaf and blind man won't be homeless.

The owners of the Bayou Courtyard apartments, a community for the deaf where Ackerman has lived since 2002, said Wednesday they would allow the 41-year-old man to remain, at least until he finds somewhere else to live.

"It's not our intention to put anyone out on the streets," said Julie Church, executive director of Deaf & Hearing Connection of Tampa Bay, which owns Bayou Courtyard. "This has been a very, very hard case."

Ackerman's lawyer, Ken Dandar, said he was surprised by the outcome.

"We didn't come here for sympathy," he said. "We came here because we thought we were following the law and the Deaf & Hearing Connection was not."

Ackerman's lease at Bayou Courtyard, 7545 83rd St. in Seminole, expired Wednesday. In May, he filed a lawsuit saying the Deaf & Hearing Connection's decision not to renew the lease violated the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

But first, Ackerman sought a court order allowing him to remain in his apartment until a trial could be held.

The hearing lasted three days. Many of the participants were deaf, and communication was difficult. Several interpreters were needed to translate between spoken English and American Sign Language. Three of them took turns communicating with Ackerman by signing into his hands so he could feel the words.

Sam Heller, the attorney for the Deaf & Hearing Connection, argued his client did not have to renew the lease because Ackerman violated policies at the complex and scared staff members and residents with his temper.

Several residents from Bayou Courtyard testified Wednesday they became frightened after seeing Ackerman gesture aggressively at staff members.

But other residents said Ackerman was not violent. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show he has never been arrested. Dandar said the Deaf & Hearing Connection was punishing Ackerman because he stands up for his rights.

"He just wants to live in his apartment with his roommate, as he has done for years," Dandar told the judge.

U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara said he agreed that Ackerman did not appear to be a violent person. He also said he wonders if another facility could accommodate Ackerman.

"This hearing certainly has been educational as to the everyday hurdles people like Mr. Ackerman have to overcome," Lazzara said.

But to get the court order, Ackerman had to prove his case was so strong he would probably win when his lawsuit goes to trial, and Lazzara said that was just too close to call.

Dandar said he hasn't decided whether to appeal the judge's ruling.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or

© 2006 St. Petersburg Times