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HUD charges landlord for threatening renter over service dog

Fair Housing laws forbid discrimination based on disability, and that includes service animals, which many landlords are unaware of, which could lead to more lawsuits.

service animal dog

service animal dog

Fair Housing laws allegedly broken

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the owner of Jay’s Hilltop Rentals in Grand Rapids, MN has allegedly violated the Fair Housing Act by denying a request from a disabled woman to reside in her apartment with a medically-prescribed support animal.

HUD’s charges allege that the tenant obtained a letter from a medical professional treating her explaining that she was disabled within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act and needed a support animal to alleviate symptoms associated with her disabilities. Further, HUD says that when she attempted to show the letter to the property owner, he refused to read it, threw the note on the floor, and yelled at the tenant to “get rid” of the animal or he would “get rid” of the tenant. The owner later offered to let the tenant keep her support animal if she tripled her security deposit.

HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the woman for the damages caused her by the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines in order to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages to aggrieved persons.

The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968

The Federal Fair Housing Act, established in 1968, protects civil rights in housing and prohibits housing providers, including condominium associations, from denying housing to anyone based on \a person’s national origin, sex, race, religion, or color.

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In 1988, disability (codified by the ADA in 1990) and familial status were both included, many states and local communities also have also included members of the military as a protected class, and now, the National Association of Realtors has amended the Code of Ethics to include protections for all sexual orientations. HUD, along with all HUD insured housing likewise announced that they will not discriminate against actual or perceived sexually identity, or orientation.

In HUD’s words, “The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation in its rules, policies, practices, or services when needed to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling.”

“HUD is committed to making sure housing providers meet their obligation to grant people with disabilities the reasonable accommodations they need,” said HUD’s Midwest Regional Administrator Antonio R. Riley.

The takeaway

Service animals are tricky and many, many property owners and managers simply do not understand that it falls under Fair Housing laws and according to federal law, must be accommodated, no matter the pet policy.

This is not the first, nor the last Fair Housing violation seen with this, and in this case, many violators are not attempting to discriminate, nor do they know they are discriminating, rather are sticking to their animal policy, which gets tricky, especially when the service animal is a breed restricted by property management.

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As service animals become more mainstream to treat even more conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), landlords need to get up to date on federal law as it applies to this situation, because there may not be an attempt to discriminate, but HUD will levy discrimination charges, regardless of intent, which can be costly and time consuming.

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