WASHINGTON – October 16, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it is charging the owners and landlords of a high-rise complex in New York City with violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to allow a resident with disabilities to have an emotional support animal. HUD’s charge alleges that Friedman Residence, LLC (formerly called the Aurora), Common Ground Management Corporation, and The Actors’ Fund of America refused to accept that the resident required a dog to cope with the symptoms of his disability. Read HUD’s charge.
The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when a person with a disability requires such accommodations, including granting waivers to “no-pet” policies for persons who require assistance or support animals. Additionally, the law makes it unlawful to make housing unavailable to any person because of a disability.
“It’s not a landlord’s role to determine what a resident with disabilities needs in order to perform life’s daily functions,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Landlords have an obligation to grant reasonable accommodations when they are needed and HUD will continue to work to ensure that they meet that obligation.”
The case came to HUD’s attention after the resident, who has a psychiatric disability, filed a complaint with HUD alleging that his right to have an emotional support animal was denied. The man lives in a two-bedroom apartment at The Dorothy Ross Friedman Residence, a 30-story supportive housing residence for senior citizens, working professionals and persons living with HIV/AIDS that is sponsored by the Actors’ Fund, a New York nonprofit for performing arts and entertainment professionals.
When the tenant moved into Friedman Residence in 2004 he did not have a support animal. However, in 2010 the resident began being treated by a licensed clinical psychologist and a year later bought a small dog. After recognizing an improvement in the man’s condition, his doctor recommended that he register the animal as an official emotional support animal.
In February 2013, the landlords initiated eviction procedures against the man due to the presence of the dog. The man subsequently provided the property management director with documents from his doctor and the National Service Animal Registry showing that the dog was an emotional support animal, but instead of accepting the documentation, the landlords sent the man a final “Notice of Termination,” stating that he had not sufficiently demonstrated his need for the animal. Legal proceedings between the resident and the landlords in New York County Civil Court were stayed while this charge was investigated.
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 the man for the harm caused him by 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 fines to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages.
In FY 2014, disability was the most common basis of complaints filed with HUD and its partner agencies, being cited as a basis for 4,606 complaints, or 54 percent of the overall total.
Persons who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.