WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 17, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it is charging the owners and landlords of a 36-unit complex in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with violating the Fair Housing Act by initially refusing to allow a resident with disabilities to have an emotional support animal. HUD’s charge alleges that even after the resident obtained a support dog, the owners, Robert Christensen, Linda Christensen, and Viking Villas, LLC, placed overly burdensome requirements on the resident’s use of the dog.
The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when a person with a disability requires such accommodations, including granting waivers to “no-pet” policies for persons who require assistance or support animals. Additionally, the law makes it unlawful to make housing unavailable to any person because of a disability.
“Housing providers need to understand that many persons with disabilities need support animals to assist them in life’s daily functions,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD remains committed to taking action when it learns that housing providers are failing to meet their obligation to provide reasonable accommodations when needed.”
The case came to HUD’s attention when the woman, who has a mental disability, filed a complaint alleging that the apartment owners initially refused to allow her to have a support animal and asked her to give 60-days’ notice to vacate the apartment if she insisted on getting one. When she obtained a dog and requested a reasonable accommodation to keep the animal, the owners requested verification of the animal’s proper inoculations and licensure with the city before responding to her request. Upon granting her request, they also required her to sign a “Companion Animal/Pet Policy Agreement” that included discriminatory provisions that (1) allowed the landlords to revoke approval of the animal at their “sole discretion;” (2) imposed size, weight, and breed limitations on assistance animals; (3) required that assistance animals be more than six months old at the time they are acquired; (4) allowed the landlord to enter the apartment to inspect for damage suspected to have been caused by the assistance animal; and (5) allowed the landlord to evict her for failure to comply with any of the agreement’s provisions.
Eventually the woman moved out for fear of losing her housing because of her support animal.
HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the woman for the harm caused her by 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 fines to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages.
In FY 2014, disability was the most common basis of complaints filed with HUD and its partner agencies, being cited as a basis for 4,606 complaints, or 54 percent of the overall total.
Persons who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.
More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet
at www.hud.gov and http://espanol.hud.gov.