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Animal Law Update Commentary on Animal Law and Legal Issues

A $20,000 Decision — is it a Pet or an Assistance Animal

Posted in Animal

This piece originally appeared on Fox Rothschild’s Fair Housing Defense blog on February 28, 2012.  The post was authored by Scott M. Badami, Partner in Fox’s Litigation Practice.  Scott can be reached at sbadami@foxrothschild.com or 610.397.7974.

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Do you know the difference between a pet and an emotional assistance animal? As an apartment management professional, you should. Or you might find yourself in a Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuit with the Department of Justice. That is what happened to a community in Utah which it was alleged refused to grant a reasonable accommodation request to a resident. In a case that settled earlier this week, the DOJ announced a $20,000 payment to the resident along with a consent decree that resolves a lawsuit alleging that a Park City, Utah condominium association and its management company violated the FHA by refusing to grant the resident’s request for a reasonable accommodation.

The action, filed on Nov. 21, 2011, in U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, alleged that the community and property manager refused to grant a reasonable accommodation request so that the resident, a disabled combat veteran of the first Gulf War, could keep a small dog in the condominium he rented to help him cope with the effects of depression and anxiety disorder. The lawsuit further alleged that the defendants refused to waive their pet fees and insurance requirements and issued multiple fines that eventually led to the non-renewal of the resident’s lease.

Under the consent decree, the defendants will pay $20,000 in monetary damages as well as attend fair housing training, implement a new reasonable accommodation policy that does not charge pet fees to owners of service or assistance animals and does not require them to purchase liability insurance, in addition to extra notice, monitoring and reporting requirements.

The lawsuit arose as a result of a discrimination complaint filed by with HUD. After an investigation, HUD issued a charge of discrimination, and the defendants opted to have the case brought in U.S. District Court.

This case is another example that management must know the difference between a pet and a service animal. We must, of course, always evaluate and respond to requests for reasonable accommodations or reasonable modifications. And we need to get it right.

Just A Thought.