Housing Authority Settles For $1 Million With Tenants Over Emotional Support Animals

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A Colorado housing authority accused of violating the federal rights of tenants with disabilities by charging a fee for emotional support animals has settled a lawsuit for nearly $1 million.

The lawsuit was recently settled between the Meeker Housing Authority and 22-year-old A.J. White for $1 million, according to reports.

The suit was originally filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of White over allegations he was discriminated against for owning emotional support animals.

According to the suit, White suffers from depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and his two cats were his emotional support animals meant to help him through his mental illnesses.

The lawsuit was settled for $1 million after the judge ruled the housing authority “had discriminated against tenants who own” emotional support animals.

White filed his suit a few years back after the Meeker Housing Authority announced it would “require a $300 fee per emotional support animal,”  according to legalreader.com.

Colorado District Court Judge William J. Martinez ruled in February that the creation of a $300 fee and the denial of requests for an exception by the tenants with disabilities violated federal law preventing discrimination against people with disabilities. Other claims were set to be decided by a jury in early May until the parties began settlement talks, according to the Denver Post.

Under the agreement, the plaintiffs will receive $950,000 from the Meeker Housing Authority. They previously settled with the town of Meeker for $50,000, attorneys said.

Housing Authority Settles For $1 Million With Tenants Over Emotional Support Animals

 

Are You Confused By Requests For Service, Emotional Support And Assistance Animals?

Grace Hill has provided some excellent training for landlords and property managers in this area.

Housing that receives federal financial assistance from HUD must also comply with Section 504. Like the FHA, Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

Whereas the FHA and Section 504 prohibit discrimination in housing, the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability in all areas of public life, including schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the public. The ADA requires you to let service dogs accompany their owners in any area of the community that is open to the public, such as the leasing office.

Know the assistance animal terminology and definitions

An assistance animal may be any type of animal and is not required to have specific training.

The FHA and Section 504 use “assistance animal” as a broad term to describe any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

Under the FHA and Section 504, service animals, emotional support animals, and companion animals are all considered assistance animals. An assistance animal may be any type of animal and is not required to have specific training.

The ADA uses the term “service animal” and defines it specifically as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals, companion animals and animals other than dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) are not considered service animals under the ADA.

You cannot deny a reasonable accommodation request because an animal does not meet the ADA definition of a service animal. Under the FHA and Section 504, reasonable accommodations must be granted for assistance animals, which include service animals, emotional support animals, and companion animals.

Residents making accommodation requests are not required to use specific terminology

If an animal works, assists, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s disability, it doesn’t matter what term someone uses, it is an assistance animal under the FHA and Section 504.

Think of assistance animals as working animals, not pets

Thinking of assistance animals as working animals, not pets, can prevent confusion. Under the FHA and Section 504, assistance animals may be cats, dogs, birds, turtles, rabbits, hamsters, fish, or nearly any other type of animal. It is not the type of animal that matters, but rather the function the animal serves.

“This stuff is complicated – and serious. You’ll find that The Multifamily Property Manager’s Guide to Handling Assistance Animals answers a lot of your questions about assistance animals, including how to tackle conversations with other residents. But when in doubt, ask your supervisor or legal counsel,” Grace Hill writes in the blog post.

Are You Confused By Requests For Service, Emotional Support And Assistance Animals?

Resources:

Colorado lawsuit over companion animals settles for $1M

Three disabled residents sue Meeker housing authority claiming right to have companion animal

Meeker Housing Authority Settles Lawsuit Over Emotional Support Animals For $1 Million

Meeker Housing Authority Pays $1M to Settle Emotional Support Animal Lawsuit

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