Friday, July 19, 2013

'Prescription Pooch' Feds Tag Landlord In Fair Housing Suit Alleging Refusal To Waive 'Pet Deposit' Requirement For Low-Income Tenant With Mental Disability Who Needed Emotional Support Animal, Followed By Subsequent Retaliation, Harassment That Forced Tenant To Move After She Filed HUD Complaint

From the U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.):

  • The Justice Department [] filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of rental homes in and near Kelso and Longview, Wash., for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against persons with disabilities.

    The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleges that Linda Barber, Bert Barber and Lori Thompson engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act or denied rights protected by the Act.

    Specifically, the lawsuit asserts that the defendants established and implemented a discriminatory policy that allowed waiver of the defendants’ mandatory $1,000 “pet deposit” for service animals with specialized training, but not for other assistance animals, including emotional support animals. The suit also alleges that, by refusing a tenant’s requests for a reasonable accommodation to waive the $1,000 pet deposit for her assistance animal, the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act.

    “The Fair Housing Act ensures that individuals with disabilities who live with and benefit from assistance animals have equal access to housing,” said Eric Halperin, Senior Counsel and Special Counsel for Fair Lending in the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws that protect the rights of persons with disabilities.”

    “The rights of our disabled citizens need to be protected and landlords should not engage in conduct that makes their lives more difficult,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan for the Western District of Washington. “A tenant should not have to repeatedly prove they need a service animal or other accommodation, and should not face retaliation when they make a complaint to those tasked with protecting their civil rights.”

    This lawsuit arose as a result of a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A low-income tenant with a mental disability repeatedly asked the defendants to waive the $1,000 pet deposit for her assistance animal and provided numerous notes from medical professionals to support her request.

    As a result of the defendants’ policy and their failure to grant her request, she waited for over two and a half years to obtain an assistance animal and then began to pay the deposit in monthly installments at great financial hardship.

    After filing her HUD complaint, she was subjected to retaliation and harassment by the defendants, and she eventually moved out of the defendants’ unit. After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department.

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