Assistance Animal Fair Housing Case in Reno Nevada

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BassetHot off the presses! The U.S. Department of Justice just announced a settlement with a Reno, NV apartment complex regarding the management’s treatment of residents with assistance animals. From the DOJ’s press release:

“The department’s complaint had alleged that the owners, employees and management company of Rosewood Park Apartments violated the Fair Housing Act by limiting individuals with certain assistance animals to a particular section of Rosewood Park Apartments; subjecting such individuals to pet fees; requiring assistance animals to be licensed or certified; and barring companion or uncertified service dogs altogether.”

The settlement in this case was $127,500, payable to a family who was denied housing (because of their assistance animal), and to Silver State Fair Housing Council, a nonprofit organization that advocates for equal housing opportunity in Nevada. In addition, the defendants in this case, including the owners and property managers, will pay an additional $25,000 to other parties who were harmed by the discriminatory practices of the apartment community. A civil penalty of $15,000, payable to the U.S. government, was added to the case.

There continues to be a fair amount of confusion among housing providers as to just what constitutes an accommodation for someone with a disability, when it comes to assistance animals. Thanks, in part, to websites like the National Service Animal Registry, offering registration or “certification” of assistance animals, many disabled renters and housing providers inaccurately conclude that some type of “license,” “certification,” or “permit” is needed, in order for an assistance animal to be accepted in rental housing.

Assistance animals do NOT need to be certified, licensed, or trained for a particular task, in order to provide assistance to someone with a disability.

Assistance animals are not pets, and cannot be treated as “pets” by housing providers. No pet deposits, pet rent, or pet fees can be collected for an assistance animal. HUD and DOJ have published a very helpful guide for housing providers that I urge you to review. It discusses various accommodations that might be requested by residents with disabilities, and the housing provider’s obligations and processes for verifying the renter’s need for any requested accommodation.

Property Manager’s Tip:  Have a written policy for handling requests for accommodations and modifications by residents with disabilities. Make sure that policy has been reviewed by legal counsel. Then, follow your policy, with each and every request!

Do you have an accommodation/modification policy in place for your rental housing?

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Assistance Animal Fair Housing Case in Reno Nevada

  1. Judy
    Erin - 4 years ago

    Judy,
    Am I understanding this correctly: Property Management companies cannot charge any sort of pet deposit or fee if a tenant claims their animal is a service animal? How would a Property Management company confirm that the pet is a service animal, or is our only obligation to confirm that the tenant has a disability?

    Furthermore, if the owner has a “no pets” policy for his home, and has two applications to choose from, one with no pets and one with a service animal, is it discriminatory if he chooses the tenant with no pets?

    1. Judy
      Judy - 4 years ago

      Hi Erin! Thanks for reading and commenting on this post. You DO understand correctly. If a resident with a disability has a service/assistance/therapy/companion animal, the PM company may not treat that animal as a “pet,” for purposes of fees, deposits, and pet rent. The HUD/DOJ Joint Statement I provided a link to in the post explains this really well. It is up to the resident with a disability to inform you that he/she has a disability, and needs the animal as an accommodation. If the disability (and need for the animal) is not obvious to you, you are entitled to verification of (1) the fact that the resident has a disability as defined by the Federal Fair Housing Act, and (2) the animal is needed by the resident, because of the disability. Remember that the animal does not have to be trained to perform a specific task, or certified in any way.

      A “no pets” policy does not apply to residents with service/assistance/therapy/companion animals. (Please note that those terms are all interchangeable, and mean the same thing, in terms of how the animal would be viewed under Fair Housing Law.)

      In the example you outlined, where you might have 2 applicants – one with a disability and one without – if the applicants are equally qualified to rent, based on your objective qualifying criteria, I would be very uncomfortable choosing the one without a disability, simply because of his/her need for an accommodation. For this and other reasons, many property managers’ policy is to evaluate rental applications on a first-come, first-served basis, rather than accept multiple applications and compare those applications side-by-side.

      I hope this information is helpful to you, Erin. Thanks again for responding to this post. The questions you raised come up quite often in our industry!

  2. Judy
    Erin - 4 years ago

    Thank you Judy. I look forward to bringing this up at my office.

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