On November 4, 2022, the United States Attorney’s Office filed an “election” complaint in United States v. Madison Property L.L.C., et al (D. Minn.). The complaint alleges that the defendants discriminated on the basis of disability in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by refusing to grant a reasonable accommodation to allow the complainant to rent a unit with her emotional assistance cat. Andrew Brenner is also named as a defendant in the case. The case was referred to the Division after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received a complaint, conducted an investigation, and issued a charge of discrimination.
Case Open Date: Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Case Name: United States v. Madison Property L.L.C., et al (D. Minn.)
Topic: Civil Rights
Tags: Andrew Brenner; Fair Housing Act of 1988; FHA; Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968; reasonable accommodations; dwelling; anxiety disorder; panic attacks; emotional support
Industry Code: None
Component: Civil Rights Division
Civil Rights – Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Case Documents: Complaint – United States v. Madison Property L.L.C. (D. Minn.)
This case alleges a failure to accommodate and failure to make housing available following an applicant’s request to keep an emotional support cat. According to the Complaint, the Plaintiff informed management while touring the property that she had an emotional support animal. The employee allegedly responded, “We don’t have a pet policy yet. Can’t you just get rid of it? Or give it away for three months, and maybe we’ll have a pet policy by then?” The Plaintiff moved forward with the application process anyway but saw in the Lease that while the property had a no-pet policy, there was no stated exception for assistance animals. The Plaintiff provided a letter from her healthcare provider confirming her need for the ESA, but the manager allegedly would not make an exception for the cat. He instead offered to refund her security deposit, and she opted to look for housing elsewhere.
The Complaint notes that management did not ask to contact the verifier or ask any additional questions regarding the need for the animal. In asserting this allegation, the government is acknowledging that automatic approval of an assistance animal is not always required, and there may be reasons, depending on the specific circumstances, to seek clarifying information on the disability status, need, or nexus. However, the Plaintiff claims that even if the circumstances may have warranted it in this situation, management still failed to seek any additional information before denying the request.
Basic fair housing training, particularly on the topic of reasonable accommodations, is crucial for all employees at all levels because prospects, applicants, and residents can make an accommodation request at any time. All employees should be aware that assistance animals, which include emotional support animals, are not pets and cannot be excluded from the property if needed for a disability-related reason. It is not uncommon for only one person at the property to have been trained on the specifics of your procedure, forms, required information, etc. However, all staff should, at the very least, be trained on general reasonable accommodation requirements in order to avoid an unexpected interaction that leads to a violation.