WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it has charged Granby, Massachusetts property owner Pleasant Valley Estates, Inc., and its management company, Bernashe Realty, Inc., with housing discrimination for allegedly discriminating against persons with disabilities who require the use of assistance animals. Read HUD’s charge.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to persons with disabilities or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices. This includes waiving no pet policies for assistance or service animals.
“A person who requires the use of an assistance animal should not be unlawfully denied their right to have that reasonable accommodation,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Whenever the rights of persons with disabilities are violated, HUD will continue to take action to protect those rights.”
The case came to HUD’s attention when the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (MFHC), a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program agency, filed a complaint alleging that Pleasant Valley Estates, Inc., and Bernashe Realty, Inc., discriminate against persons with disabilities. The charge, issued on behalf of MFHC, alleges that the companies posted Craigslist advertisements which stated, “One cat considered, no dogs please,” and “no service animals.”
The charge also describes testing that MFHC conducted. Two MFHC testers posing as persons with disabilities contacted Pleasant Valley Estates and asked if they could keep a dog to help with their disabilities. One of the testers was told by phone to send an email to arrange a visit to the property, but she received no reply to her email. The other tester received a reply stating, “I am highly allergic to dogs and therefore I cannot accept dogs at my properties. I think I have that in my ad.” In contrast, MFHC testers who did not mention that they used assistance animals were offered opportunities to view units, told when units would become available, and given rental applications.
“Rules prohibiting service animals in housing violate the Fair Housing Act,” said J. Paul Compton Jr., HUD’s General Counsel. “HUD is committed to ensuring that housing providers offer equal opportunities to prospective tenants with disabilities looking to rent a home,”
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 or she may award damages to the complainant for its losses because 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. If the case is heard in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages to the complainant.
April 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. In commemoration, HUD, local communities, housing advocates, and fair housing organizations across the country have coordinated a variety of activities to enhance awareness of fair housing rights, highlight HUD’s fair housing enforcement efforts, and end housing discrimination in the nation.