I thought this would be a good day for a quick refresher on service animals and reasonable accommodation requests. Service (and/or companion) animals are not pets. We do not charge pet deposits for service animals. While there may be times when a resident is required to provide medical documentation demonstrating the need of a service animal, there is no requirement that the animal get special training. A new case filed last week illustrates what can happen if the rules regarding service animals are not followed.
Earlier this month the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of rental properties in Washington state with violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by discriminating against persons with disabilities. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleges that the defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the FHA. The complaint asserts that the defendants established and implemented a discriminatory policy that allowed waiver of a mandatory $1,000 “pet deposit” for service animals with specialized training, but not for other assistance animals, including emotional support animals. Another claim is that the defendants violated the FHA by refusing a resident’s reasonable accommodation request to waive the $1,000 deposit for an assistance animal.
The action started with a complaint being filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A low-income resident with a mental disability asked the defendants to waive the $1,000 pet deposit for her assistance animal and provided numerous notes from medical professionals in support of the request. The allegations were that as a result of the defendants’ policy and failure to grant her request, she waited for over two and a half years to obtain an assistance animal and then began to pay the deposit in monthly installments at a significant financial hardship. Finally, the resident claimed that after filing the complaint with HUD, she was subjected to retaliation and harassment such that the resident ultimately moved out of the unit. HUD issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to DOJ. As is common in situations like this, DOJ seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants in addition to monetary damages and a civil penalty.
Regular readers of this space know that I always believe there are two sides to every story and just because a complaint has been filed it does not mean the allegations are true. For professional apartment management, however, the facts as alleged here are yet another cautionary tale to ensure we follow the rules concerning reasonable accommodation requests generally as well as service animals and pet deposits specifically. Failing to appropriately respond will likely involve you needing to hire a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.