The Justice Department announced on September 27th that the owners and managers of four multi-family apartment complexes in the Salt Lake City area have agreed to pay $45,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against tenants and prospective tenants with disabilities.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants failed to provide reasonable accommodations for certain tenants with disabilities who sought to live with their assistance animals. The department’s complaint alleges, among other things, that the defendants required tenants with disabilities who sought to live with an assistance animal to have a healthcare provider complete a “prescription form” suggesting that the healthcare provider may be held responsible for any property damage or physical injury that the assistance animal may cause. The defendants did not require tenants without disabilities who had pets to have a third party assume liability for their animals.
The lawsuit arose as a result of complaints by both former tenants and Utah’s Disability Law Center (DLC) filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. DLC, a non-profit organization that works to promote equal housing opportunities in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, sent testers posing as prospective renters to the defendants’ apartment buildings to determine whether they were engaging in discriminatory practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
“The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make accommodations for individuals with disabilities who require assistance animals in their homes,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department remains deeply committed to protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and holding accountable housing providers who utilize discriminatory policies.”
“This office will not tolerate business practices that deprive those with disabilities their rights to housing accommodations required under the law,” said U.S. Attorney John W. Huber of the District of Utah. “We will vigorously pursue those who fail to comply with these standards.”
Under the terms of the consent order, which must still be approved by the court, the defendants are required to pay $20,000 to a former tenant and her seven-year-old son with autism who were denied permission to keep the child’s assistance animal after the child’s doctor refused to assume liability for any possible damages caused by the animal. The defendants are also required to pay $25,000 to establish a settlement fund to compensate any additional individuals who were harmed by their conduct. The settlement also prohibits the defendants from engaging in future discrimination and requires them to establish a non-discriminatory reasonable accommodation policy, use non-discriminatory reasonable accommodation application forms and have the relevant employees participate in fair-housing training.