An Army veteran, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, was told he could not keep his emotional support dog in an apartment complex and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged the owner and manager of the complex with discrimination, according to a release.
"Assistance animals play a vital role in helping our veterans cope with service-related disabilities," Anna Maria Farías, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in the release.
"Housing providers have an obligation to permit these animals, and HUD ensures that they meet this obligation," she said.
The veteran, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, receives disability benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration for his major depressive disorder and also suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to HUD.
Apartment owner suggested veteran get a cat instead of emotional support dog
HUD filed the charge against a West St. Paul, Minn., apartment complex which ordered the veteran to remove the dog and suggested he get a cat instead as it was under the complex’s rule of 12 pounds for an animal.
The veteran was told he was keeping a dog in violation of the lease. The letter stated that the dog should be removed immediately and warned that three lease violations could lead to eviction, according to the complaint. The veteran asked for reasonable accommodation for his emotional support animal and was denied.
The veteran then filed a complaint alleging that the owner and manager of Westview Park Apartments denied his request to keep an assistance animal, despite the veteran explaining in detail his right to have the animal.
In a letter responding to the veteran's request, the owner suggested the cat, citing the property's policy of allowing cats but not allowing assistance animals weighing more than 12 pounds. The owner also stated that, even for an animal under 12 pounds, the veteran would need to provide proof that the animal was licensed.
Veteran provided proof and certificate of training of emotional support dog
The veteran responded by providing a copy of his license for the animal, a certificate of training, and additional information about the animal, but the owner still refused his request, stating the dog had to be removed from the property.
He provided a letter from Sutherland Counseling supporting his need for the animal, along with his own written statement describing his symptoms and need for the animal, according to the complaint. He adopted the emotional support dog, a great Dane-golden retriever mix.
In a subsequent letter, the manager notified the veteran that he was in violation of his lease by having the dog and that he had two weeks to vacate the unit. The eviction action was later withdrawn, but the veteran, still not being allowed to keep the animal, moved out of the apartment at the end of his lease.
The complaint was amended to include apartment complex owner James Tilsen and rental manager Deborah Brookins, according to the Pioneer Press at twincities.com.
Tilsen denied the discrimination charge and said he plans to fight the accusation. He questions the validity of the paperwork from the counseling firm. “Pretty much anybody can say that,” Tilsen told the newspaper about the veteran needing an emotional-support dog. “If he had presented something from the V.A. that said that he needed it, we would’ve treated it differently. We didn’t have that. All we had was an online (document) from an online psychologist that said he needed a dog. I went online and got the same thing.”
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to people with disabilities, or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices for people with disabilities. Allowing people with disabilities to have assistance animals that perform work or tasks, or that provide disability-related emotional support, is considered a reasonable accommodation under the Act.
Disability is the most common basis of complaint filed with HUD and its partner agencies. Last year alone, HUD and its partners considered more than 4,500 disability-related complaints, nearly 55 percent of all fair housing complaints.
HUD's charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party elects for the case to be heard in federal court. If the administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the complainant for his loss as a result of the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties in order to vindicate the public interest.
West St. Paul apartment owner sued over bias against Army vet, his support dog
HUD charges Minnesota landlord with housing discrimination after deying veteran the right to keep his assistance dog
Secretary, United States Department ) of Housing and Urban Development, ) on behalf of Complainant vs. Westview Park Apartments, LP; Tilsenbilt Homes, LLC; ) James Tilsen & Deborah Brookins
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