The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is doubling down on charges it is bringing against housing companies for discrimination.
This week, HUD brought charges against or settled with housing companies in Massachusetts, California and South Dakota.
Monday, HUD announced it was charging Massachusetts housing providers with discriminating against residents with disabilities. It charged Granby, Massachusetts-based property owner Pleasant Valley Estates and its management company Bernashe Realty for allegedly discriminating against those with disabilities who require assistance animals.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to persons with disabilities or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices. This includes waiving no pet policies for assistance or service animals.
“A person who requires the use of an assistance animal should not be unlawfully denied their right to have that reasonable accommodation,” said Anna María Farías, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. “Whenever the rights of persons with disabilities are violated, HUD will continue to take action to protect those rights.”
The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center filed a complaint against the company with HUD after finding an ad the company posted on Craigslist which read, “One cat considered, no dogs please,” and “no service animals.”
The MFHC even went further to make contact and test the apartment complex. Two MFHC testers posed as people with disabilities and contacted Pleasant Valley Estates to ask if they could keep a dog to help with their disabilities. One of the testers was told by phone to send an email to arrange a visit to the property, but she received no reply to her email.
The other tester received a reply stating, “I am highly allergic to dogs and therefore I cannot accept dogs at my properties. I think I have that in my ad.”
However, MFHC testers who did not mention that they used assistance animals were offered opportunities to view units, told when units would become available and given rental applications.
HUD’s charge will be heard by a U.S. administrative law judge unless a party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court.
Later on Monday, HUD announced it reached an agreement with California housing providers to settle claims of disability discrimination. The department announced it reached a conciliation or voluntary compliance agreement with Christian Church Homes and Garfield Park Village for rejecting the requests of an applicant for modifications to a wheelchair accessible unit.
The housing companies allegedly bypassed her application for the unit and instead rented it to a family that applied at a later date and had no need of the accessible features of the unit.
“Requests for reasonable accommodations aren’t requests for special treatment,” Farías said. “They give persons with disabilities the opportunity to fully enjoy their homes. Hopefully, the settlement we’re announcing today will help other housing providers to recognize and comply with their obligation to uphold the nation’s housing laws.”
The woman with the disability filed a complaint with HUD alleging she was denied the opportunity to rent one of the two wheelchair accessible units at Garfield Park Village using her Housing Choice Voucher. This is despite being first on the wait list for both units.
Under the agreement, the company will pay the woman $7,500 and allow her to remain on the wait list for the unit. The company will also modify its policies and procedures to say processing an applicant’s request for reasonable accommodations and modifications should not unreasonably delay a tenancy decision.
And Tuesday, HUD brought charges against a property management company in South Dakota for discriminating against a family with a child. The owners allegedly refused to let a couple with a new baby stay in their one-bedroom apartment.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to rent or to impose different rental terms on the basis of familial status, including actions that unreasonably limit rental occupancy by families with children.
“Occupancy policies that exclude families with children or make it harder for them to obtain housing are unlawful and have no place in today’s often tight housing markets,” Farías said. “We will continue to take action when housing providers employ practices that violate the nation’s housing laws.”
The couple alleged that after having their baby, they were told that they must move to a two-bedroom unit since there were three people living in the apartment. After being denied the ability to remain in their unit, the couple moved to a new complex.
This charge will also be heard by a U.S. administrative law judge unless any party elects for the case to be heard in federal court.