WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced that it is charging John and Nancy Meany, owners of an apartment building in Traer, Iowa, with violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to accommodate a request from a family with a child with cerebral palsy. HUD brings the charge on behalf of the child and her mother, claiming the owners refused to allow the seven-year-old girl to have a medically-prescribed emotional support animal. Additionally, the owners allegedly told the mother that if she got the animal, she would have to either move or pay more money to stay.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for landlords to refuse a reasonable accommodation in their rules, policies, practices, or services when needed to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling. It is also against the law to impose different rules and restrictions on those who make such request, including charging them extra.
“Threatening parents with eviction for requesting an emotional support animal for a child with disabilities or charging more for having one is against the law," said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD is committed to ensuring that landlords comply with fair housing laws and provide the accommodations that may be necessary for tenants with disabilities to have the same opportunities to enjoy their homes.”
According to HUD’s charge, the mother and her daughter were aware of the housing provider’s “no-pet policy” when they moved in and did not contest it at that time. Later, recalling that the Labrador retriever who previously lived with them had alleviated stress for her daughter, the mother asked the owners to permit the daughter to have a dog live with them, and provided documentation of the need for the animal from the daughter’s pediatrician and therapist. The owners denied the request, stating, “We are not intending to modify the ‘no pet policy’ on our property.” The owners further stated that if the mother insisted on bringing the dog in to help her daughter to better cope with her condition, they would collect a $200 deposit and charge an extra $25 per month more for rent.
The mother and child eventually moved out of the building to another apartment, which cost more and was much farther from the child’s school.
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 aggrieved persons for the discrimination.
The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines in order to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages to aggrieved persons.
FHEO and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate more than 10,000 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 (voice), (800) 927-9275 (TTY).