Summary of Court Case Involving Reasonable Accommodations, Race and Assistance Animals
Sentinel Real Estate Corp., et al. (N.D. Ga.): On December 30, 2021, the United States Attorney’s Office entered into a settlement agreement to resolve a HUD election referral alleging that the respondents discriminated against the complainant on the basis of his race (black) and his disability when they delayed approval of his request for a reasonable accommodation to allow him to keep a service/emotional support animal, and when they issued him a notice of non-renewal of his lease. The settlement agreement requires the respondents to pay $35,000 to the complainant’s estate, obtain fair housing training, and adopt new reasonable accommodation policies. The case was referred to the Division after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received a complaint, conducted an investigation, and issued a charge of discrimination.
Case Open Date:
Thursday, December 30, 2021
Case Name: Sentinel Real Estate Corp., et al. (N.D. Ga.)
Topic: Civil Rights
Tags: Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity; FHEO; Fair Housing Act; race; disability; reasonable accommodation; service emotional support animal; unauthorized pet notice; service dog national registry
Industry Code: None
Component: Civil Rights Division
Civil Rights – Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
According to the alleged facts of this case, the resident brought a dog into his unit without requesting permission, and when the property manager cited him for the animal, the resident eventually produced a verification letter stating that he needed to keep the dog as an assistance animal.
It is unknown based on the information provided in the settlement agreement whether the resident was able to keep his animal in his apartment during this time, but HUD seems to contend that no formal approval was ever issued for the assistance animal. Property management non-renewed this resident approximately seven months after the request was made.
Although they rescinded the nonrenewal and acknowledged the assistance animal in the resident’s new lease, this “approval” of the animal was too far removed from the original request and receipt of the verification letter. HUD viewed this approval delay as well as the nonrenewal as fair housing violations.
One important takeaway from this case is that allowing an animal to remain in the unit should not be viewed by management as implied approval of a reasonable accommodation request. There should always be a written response to every RA request received. Fortunately, the parties were able to settle this matter.
There are great benefits to retaining fair housing legal counsel to make sure your reasonable accommodation process will assist in keeping you compliant.