In February 2012, the U.S. Attorney brought suit against Woodbury Gardens, a senior housing development, citing a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, as a result of its failure to make an exception to its no-pet policy for resident, Sandra Biegel. Ms. Biegel, who suffered from severe respiratory problems, anxiety issues and a myriad of other health problems, was forced by the co-op, to get rid of her miniature schnauzer, who served as her comfort animal.
Despite receiving letters from at least four (4) of Ms. Biegel’s doctors concerning the benefits of dog’s presence to Ms. Biegel’s health, the co-op made consistent demands to have the pet removed, even threatening eviction and fines upon the residents. The dog was ultimately removed from the Biegels’ home in October 2007. A month later, Ms. Biegel died.
The case recently settled in early November. The terms of settlement requires the co-op to pay $58,750.00 to Ms. Biegel’s husband; to notify the U.S. Attorney’s Office every time it denies a request for accommodations by residents for three years; to require all of its employees to undergo training in FHA compliance.
The FHA makes it unlawful for boards to refuse to make reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. While terms such as “disabilities” and “reasonable accommodations” may be considered subjective in nature, the FHA is a good starting point in analyzing the requests for such accommodations. Boards should always consider whether their subjective opinions will be enough to defend claims of FHA violations such as the one in the foregoing case.