A California property owner and manager has agreed to pay $10,000 in a conciliation agreement resolving an assistance animal discrimination claim that the landlord denied a resident’s reasonable-accommodation request to keep an assistance animal, according to a release.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said in the release it has approved a conciliation agreement between a Monterey, California-based rental property owner and manager and a resident of one of their properties.

“An assistance animal can be a lifeline for persons with disabilities,” said Jeanine Worden, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, in the release. “HUD is committed to enforcing the Fair Housing Act to ensure that housing providers recognize their obligation” to make accommodations when needed to comply with the nation’s fair housing laws.

The complaint came to HUD’s attention when the resident who has disabilities filed a complaint alleging that the owner and manager discriminated against him by failing to grant his request to keep an assistance animal, according to the release.

“After denying his request, the owners allegedly cancelled the lease, changed the locks on the unit, and threatened to call the police in the event that he attempted to move in. The owners also allegedly claimed that the man never disclosed his need for an assistance animal, even though he provided a letter from his physician verifying his disability and need for the assistance animal,” the release says.

“The owners/managers deny that they discriminated against the complainant and denied any violation of law, but voluntarily agreed to settle the complaint. Under the conciliation agreement, they will pay $10,000 to the resident, provide fair-housing training for their employees, create and implement a written reasonable accommodation policy, and modify any rental forms or materials to be consistent with the Fair Housing Act.

Assistance Animal or Service Animal Discrimination

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from discriminating against people with disabilities, including refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when such accommodations may be necessary to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling.

“This includes permitting persons with disabilities to have service animals or assistance animals. Housing providers, unlike public accommodations, may not prohibit people with disabilities from having assistance animals that perform work or tasks, or that provide disability-related emotional support,” HUD said in the release.

A landlord should not determine who needs an assistance animal, HUD says. “It’s not a housing provider’s role to determine who does or does not need an assistance animal,” said Jeanine Worden, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

 

What A Reasonable-Accommodation Policy For An Assistance Animal Should Say

HUD says the landlord policy “must explicitly acknowledge and advise employees, tenants and prospective tenants that an assistance animal may qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the act. The policy shall acknowledge that medical verification may be necessary only if the disability and/or need for the accommodation or modification is not obvious and apparent. The policy shall further acknowledge that such verification may come from a doctor or other medical professional, such as a therapist, physician’s assistant, nurse, counselor, social worker, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability.

“The policy shall also specify that (landlords and property managers) will provide timely responses in writing to all requests for reasonable accommodation.

“The policy shall require the tracking of each reasonable-accommodation request, including, but not limited to, the date of receipt, the name and address of the requester, whether verification of disability and need were requested, whether the request was approved or denied, and when the accommodation was fully implemented,” HUD said in the agreement.

Property Manager Charging Pet Fee for Assistance Animal Leads to HUD Discrimination Charge

Another rental property owner and the property manager have been charged with discrimination for telling a prospective tenant she would have to pay hundreds of dollars in pet fees for her assistance animal, according to a release from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The charge of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act came due to the manager refusing to grant the prospective tenant with a mental health disability a reasonable accommodation to waive the required pet deposit for her assistance animal, according to the release.

After being told of the pet fees, the prospective tenant told the property manager they could not require a deposit for an assistance animal “and offered to provide a letter from her physician recommending the assistance animal,” according to the complaint.

The manager remained firm on the pet-deposit fee, telling the prospective tenant that “a physician’s letter did not matter,” the complaint says. The charge further alleges that the property manager told the woman that rules related to assistance animals only applied to “individuals who are blind and/or deaf.”

Housing Providers Do Not Determine Who Needs an Assistance Animal

“It’s not a housing provider’s role to determine who does or does not need an assistance animal,” said Jeanine Worden, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, in the release.  She added the HUD discrimination “action demonstrates HUD’s commitment to ensuring that the owners and managers of rental properties comply with the nation’s housing laws.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to people with disabilities, or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices, when necessary, to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling. Prohibitions include not allowing people with disabilities to have assistance animals that perform work or tasks, or that provide disability-related emotional support.

According to the HUD discrimination complaint, the manager “responded that complainant (prospective tenant) did not look like she had a disability and asked what the disability was. The prospective tenant told the manager that by law they “could not ask that question” and the manager replied then “I’m sorry then we can’t help you.”

The prospective tenant provided a letter from a psychiatrist dated September 21, 2016 that stated caring for an animal “was a therapeutic experience” for her and “advised that it can be beneficial to have a pet.”

During the fair-housing investigation, the prospective tenant provided an updated letter from the psychiatrist dated October 9, 2019, which reads, “This letter is to recommend allowing to have her pet ‘dog’ for her emotional support. She is currently under my care for severe anxiety.”

The prospective tenant “stated that during the period she sought housing, she felt overwhelmed because she could not find quality housing in Hamilton where she was permitted to have her assistance animal, and her work commute and commute to visit her mother were longer… and suffered from headaches and a loss of appetite as a result of her inability to find housing.”

 

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