Man with disabilities denied service animal
WASHINGTON, DC – August 25, 2011 – (RealEstateRama) — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is charging RiverBay Corporation, a housing cooperative located in the Bronx, and two of its employees with violating the Fair Housing Act for denying a disabled man’s reasonable accommodation request. HUD brings the charge on behalf of the disabled tenant, claiming that RiverBay refused to allow the tenant to have a medically prescribed emotional support animal and that the cooperative’s security officers harassed the tenant because of the service animal.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation in its rules, policies, practices, or services when needed to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling. It is also illegal to intimidate, threaten or interfere with any person for exercising their fair housing rights.
“Housing providers have a legal obligation to grant people with disabilities reasonable accommodations,” said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD is committed to ensuring that tenants with disabilities have what they need to live comfortably.”
According to the charge, when the tenant first moved into the Co-op, he signed an occupancy agreement that had a “no pets” provision. A number of years later, the tenant requested a reasonable accommodation to the Co-op’s “no pets” policy so that he could keep a service animal his doctor had prescribed to assist with his daily living. The tenant had letters from his doctor and the City of New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene verifying the animal’s service status and the tenant’s need to retain his service dog. Still, RiverBay allegedly denied the tenant’s request for an accommodation, stating that there was no evidence to show his disability required a support animal. RiverBay then refused to accept the tenant’s rent payments, threatened to suspend his garage privileges, and attempted to evict him from his apartment. Eventually, RiverBay stopped trying to evict the tenant, but continued to deny his request for a reasonable accommodation.
HUD’s charge further alleges that the Co-op’s security director failed to ensure that the security officers he supervised did not harass the tenant and his wife for keeping the service animal, even though the tenant specifically asked him to do so.
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 damages caused them by 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.
HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes: utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination; and transform the way HUD does business. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov and http://espanol.hud.gov. You can also follow HUD on twitter @HUDnews, on facebook at www.facebook.com/HUD, or sign up for news alerts on HUD’s News Listserv.