In a press release issued a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) charged a New York property owner with discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) asserting that the owner failed to permit a resident to keep an assistance animal.
Factually, the complainant (and two roommates) moved into an apartment in Buffalo pursuant to a lease with a “no pets” provision. Following what looks like a couple of months of therapy, the resident noted he was considering getting an assistance animal to help with his disability. The owner responded by reasserting the “no pets” prohibition in the lease and asking if the resident could hold off on obtaining the animal until after his lease expired. While the parties continued discussions about an assistance animal, HUD claims the property owner said her daughter (who lived in another unit in the same building) has a dog which could be used for his therapeutic needs and that had the resident told the owner about his need for an assistance animal at any time prior to signing the lease, the owner would have directed the resident to look for other housing opportunities. As the parties continued a back and forth, HUD claims that the owner demanded the assistance animal be “certified and trained” to address his disability as well as rejecting various medical verifications and contacting the complainant’s roommates seeking their assistance to rent the room to another resident once the then-current lease expired. The owner also directed the resident to leave the apartment at the expiration of his lease.
As I have written many times – “no pets” provisions are fine, but assistance animals are not pets under the FHA and property management must have a procedure in place to address reasonable accommodation requests. Also, while I am not involved with this case and I understand there are always two sides to every story, these statements attributed to the property owner about alternatives and seeking other housing illustrate the type of alleged facts that HUD will continue to seek out. And if the government believes it finds the “right” fact pattern (like here), HUD will charge the case. In this case, those claimed facts reflected a long history of engagement by the resident attempting to get the animal approved and statements by the owner outright prohibiting the assistance animal while also seeking to learn when the resident was moving out. Based on the complaint, this is a difficult look for management and they should speak with a lawyer like me to find a way out of this box and/or to ensure the other side of the story is told.
Just A Thought.