In a press release issued last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that a condominium association in New Jersey agreed to pay $30,000 to resolve allegations under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) that it discriminated against a resident with disabilities by restricting where and how she could bring her assistance animal on the property. The FHA, of course, requires most housing providers to allow individuals with disabilities (defined as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity) to have an assistance animal that performs tasks (a service animal) or that provides disability-related support (an emotional support animal).

The order issued in this case represented the conclusion of a discrimination charge HUD filed against the condominium association in October 2018, asserting that the resident (with multiple disabilities) was discriminated against for having an assistance animal. HUD’s complaint alleged that the association required the resident, who is a person with both hearing and sight disabilities, to cage her animal while in common areas as well as to use the service entrance when entering and exiting the building with the animal.

To resolve the case, the condominium association will pay $30,000 to the resident and adopt a HUD-approved reasonable accommodation policy that follows the FHA. As is common in these cases, various association employees and officials will attend fair housing training.

While acknowledging there are always at least two sides to every story and the published consent order did not contain all the facts, the teaching point here for professional apartment management is to think of assistance animals as an extension of the resident. Of course, while residents must clean up after their assistance animals and animals cannot be a direct threat to other residents, employees, or to the property itself, management cannot relegate assistance animals to the service entrance nor can we (in usual circumstances) require an animal be caged while in common areas.

If you think there is a legitimate reason that an assistance animal at your property must be in a cage or use a back entrance, I suggest you speak with a lawyer like me or you may run the real risk of scrutiny from a federal, state, or local government agency.

Just A Thought.