Continuing its efforts to enforce the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), last week the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that the owners and managers of four apartment communities in Utah agreed to pay $45,000 to settle a lawsuit asserting that they discriminated against residents and applicants with disabilities.
The complaint alleged that the defendants failed to provide reasonable accommodations to certain residents with disabilities with respect to their service and/or emotional support animals. The specific claim was that the owners/managers mandated that residents with disabilities who wanted to keep service or companion animals were required to obtain medical verifications which suggested that the health care provider might be held responsible for any property damage or physical injury that the assistance animal might cause pursuant to what the DOJ described as a “prescription form.” The DOJ further asserted that residents without disabilities who kept animals as pets were not required to have a third party assume liability for their animals.
Pursuant to the terms of a consent order, which still must be approved by a federal judge, the defendants are required to pay $20,000 to a former resident and her seven year old son with autism as well as establish a $25,000 settlement fund to compensate any additional individuals who were harmed by the alleged conduct.
While I was not involved in the case and I am mindful there are two sides to every story, this case reminds property management not to charge any additional fees (such as pet rent or pet deposits) or place additional conditions (such as requiring damage reimbursements not required of pet owners) on service/companion animals who live with your disabled residents as a reasonable accommodation. Should you have questions about what your leasing office team members can (and cannot) ask about service/companion animals, you might want to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.