HUD Charges Minnesota Landlord with Housing Discrimination After Denying a Veteran the Right to Keep his Assistance Dog
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced it is charging the owner and manager of a West St. Paul, Minn., apartment complex with discrimination for refusing to allow an Army veteran, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, to keep an emotional support animal.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to people with disabilities, or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices for people with disabilities. Allowing people with disabilities to have assistance animals that perform work or tasks, or that provide disability-related emotional support, is considered a reasonable accommodation under the Act.
“Assistance animals play a vital role in helping our veterans cope with service-related disabilities,” said Anna Maria Farías, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Housing providers have an obligation to permit these animals, and HUD ensures that they meet this obligation.”
The case came to HUD’s attention when the veteran filed a complaint alleging that the owner and manager of Westview Park Apartments denied his request to keep an assistance animal, despite the veteran explaining in detail his right to have the animal. In a letter responding to the veteran’s request, the owner suggested that he get a cat instead, citing the property’s policy of allowing cats but not allowing assistance animals weighing more than 12 pounds. The owner also stated that, even for an animal under 12 pounds, the veteran would need to provide proof that the animal was licensed.
The veteran responded by providing a copy of his license for the animal, a certificate of training, and additional information about the animal, but the owner still refused his request, stating the dog had to be removed from the property. In a subsequent letter, the manager notified the veteran that he was in violation of his lease by having the dog and that he had two weeks to vacate the unit. The eviction action was later withdrawn, but the veteran, still not being allowed to keep the animal, moved out of the apartment at the end of his lease.
Disability is the most common basis of complaint filed with HUD and its partner agencies. Last year alone, HUD and its partners considered more than 4,500 disability-related complaints, nearly 55 percent of all fair housing complaints.
HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party elects for the case to be heard in federal court. If the administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the complainant for his loss as a result of the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties in order to vindicate the public interest.