In a case filed last week, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) formally charged property owners in Syracuse, New York with violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) asserting that the owners failed to accommodate a disabled resident with an assistance animal at a community that otherwise has a “no pets” policy. While management is absolutely within its rights to declare a property pet free, leasing offices have to be able to review and evaluate reasonable accommodation requests from residents/applicants with disabilities seeking, for example, an assistance animal.
In this case, HUD asserts that the resident submitted a letter from her physician describing how the resident has a disability and how the animal alleviates anxiety and assists in preventing panic attacks. When the leasing office was reached to further discuss the request, the resident’s representative (a local fair housing group) was allegedly told that if the resident provided a $600 security deposit and insurance coverage (in the range of between $500,000 and $1 million), management would consider the accommodation request. When the resident brought the dog back to the property, she was served with an eviction notice asserting the animal was a pet and was being kept in violation of the “no pets” policy. The local court stayed the eviction action pending resolution of the HUD complaint.
As always, there are two sides to every story and just because something is in a complaint does not make it true. However, I would urge you to train your leasing office staff members to never say anything like “I know you are playing the disability game. We’re not playing it” as is claimed here. Also, do not attempt to charge a pet deposit for an assistance animal. And do not require special insurance for an assistance animal. These are hot button items and will raise red flags with HUD.
To be sure, management can and should review all medical verifications to do our best to determine that the document was not simply purchased over the internet by answering a few simple questions and using a credit card. Yes, some residents are indeed attempting to “play the disability game.” But there are ways to engage in the interactive process that should be considered. If you have what you believe are legitimate concerns, perhaps you should reach out to a lawyer like me to review your options before winding up as a defendant in an FHA discrimination matter.
Just A Thought.