WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 8, 2013 – (RealEstateRama) — 2013The Equal Rights Center (ERC), a national civil rights organization, has filed two lawsuits for violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and local laws that ensure individuals with disabilities who use service animals have equal access to housing. ERC v. Patriot Realty et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today; ERC v. Detrick Plaza Apartments et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on April 23rd.
In each case, trained ERC testers who are blind and use a guide dog were either told by rental agents that their guide dog would not be permitted at the property, or that they would be subject to additional costs or requirements because of their guide dog.
“Tens of thousands of individuals who are blind or visually impaired use guide dogs, and thousands more people with disabilities use other types of assistance animals,” said Don Kahl, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Center. “Refusing to allow guide dogs, or imposing additional costs or other requirements on people because of their guide dogs, denies people who are blind or visually impaired their right to secure housing of their choice.”
The ERC conducted three tests of Huntwood Courts apartments, located at 5000 Hunt Street NE in the District of Columbia, and managed by Patriot Realty. According to the ERC’s complaint, in each test, the blind tester was subjected to adverse, disparate treatment. In one test, an application fee was imposed on the blind tester, but was waived for the tester without a disability or a guide dog. In another test, the blind tester was told that no pets were allowed, and the rental agent failed to respond to the tester’s repeated requests for an exception to this policy, while the tester without a disability was told that some pets are allowed. In the final test, the rental agent said a pet fee was required of the blind tester, unless she could provide certification for the guide dog and medical document regarding her blindness.
The ERC conducted two tests at Detrick Plaza Apartments, located at 1709 West Seventh Street, Frederick, Maryland. According to the ERC’s complaint, in both tests, a blind tester was told that the property had a “no pets” policy and that no exception would be made to accommodate a guide dog.
“Guide dogs and other assistance animals are not pets; they are animals that assist people who are blind or have other disabilities as they move through their daily activities,” said Megan K. Whyte de Vasquez, the Director of the Fair Housing Project at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “When housing providers apply ‘no pets’ policies, limit the type or size of animal allowed, or impose additional costs or requirements for having a guide dog or other assistance animal, they deny people with disabilities equal access to housing in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and local laws.”
In April, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released additional guidance reiterating the obligations of housing providers to make accommodations for guide dogs and other assistance animals for people with disabilities.
Despite these protections, the ERC and its partners continue to hear of barriers for people with disabilities who use guide dogs and other assistance animals. To investigate this issue, the ERC conducted tests of 100 rental properties throughout the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and found that the blind testers who called rental properties to inquire about housing for them and their guide dog were denied equal housing opportunity 31 percent of the time.
The ERC is represented in the Patriot Realty matter by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Covington & Burling LLP; and is represented in the Detrick Plaza matter by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and McDermott Will & Emery LLP.
About the Equal Rights Center (www.equalrightscenter.org)
Originally formed in 1983, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) is a national non-profit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C. With members located in every state and the District of Columbia, the ERC works nationally to promote equal opportunity in housing, employment, disability rights, immigrant rights, and access to public accommodations and government services for all protected classes under federal, state, and local laws.
About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (www.washlaw.org/)
The Washington Lawyers&rsquo Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since its founding, the Committee has handled more than 5,000 cases on behalf of individuals and advocacy organizations in the areas of equal employment, fair housing, public accommodations, public education, asylum and refugee rights, and disability rights.
Ashley White, Equal Rights Center, 202.370.3204