HUD Charges Wisconsin Property Owner/Manager With Disability Discrimination Related To An Assistance Animal

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Pursuant to a release issued last week, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) stated it charged the owner and manager of apartment homes in Wisconsin with housing discrimination for allegedly refusing to rent to two individuals because of a claimed disability and related need for an assistance animal.

The HUD charge asserts that prospects found an ad for an apartment online and then toured the potential new home after meeting the property manager. After the tour, the property manager directed the individuals to complete an application. Once the application was approved, the manager sent a link to a lease. The lease had a “no pets” provision and noted violations of the “no pets” clause would result in a $250 fine. The lease did not contain an exception for assistance animals nor did it include any information about making a reasonable accommodation request.

After viewing another unit (a visit that was videotaped), the applicants raised the issue of the assistance animal and made a reasonable accommodation request. The property manager allegedly did not permit the applicants to sign the lease as well as he required an allergy test on the animal from a veterinarian to determine if the property manager could “tolerate the dog” and if he could not, the accommodation would not be approved. According to the complaint, the manager then acknowledged this was a “sticky legal issue” and that it was unclear whose legal rights were more important – the manager’s or the prospective residents. After some further back and forth, HUD claims the property manager revoked access to the lease, denied the reasonable accommodation request, and as such, failed to make housing available. As an aside, It will be a tough sell to argue to HUD that an assistance animal must be screened to confirm if it is hypoallergenic. Now, if management wishes to assert the specific animal is a “direct threat” and thus should not be permitted in the apartment, management must go through the “direct threat” analysis (an evaluation HUD claims was not done here).

While I know there are always two sides to every story, these are the types of facts that raise yellow (or even red) flags with HUD investigators. Remember – you can absolutely have a “no pets” provision in your leases. That is a property owner’s choice. But, if your property is covered under the Fair Housing Act, you are required to review and evaluate any reasonable accommodation request (such as for an assistance animal needed by an applicant/resident with a disability). You cannot simply revoke a potential lease after learning of a reasonable accommodation request without potentially needing to speak with a lawyer like me.

Just A Thought

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