Loyal Fair Housing Defense Blog readers know that responding to reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification requests by our residents is a must. The law is very clear that disabled residents (and applicants) have every right to request an accommodation (a change in rules or policies) or a modification (a physical change) that is medically necessary and does not cause a unreasonable burden to the property. One of the most common reasonable accommodation requests is for a service or a companion animal. These can come, for example, from a resident at a property which otherwise prohibits pets or from an applicant who should not be charged pet fees for a service dog. When management does not appropriately evaluate and respond to these requests, the potential for more serious problems abound.
Earlier this year the Department of Justice filed an action pursuant to the Fair Housing Act claiming that a senior housing community failed to make an exception to its no pet policy for a resident who suffered from severe respiratory problems, anxiety issues and a handful of other health problems. Despite receiving letters from at least four medical professionals explaining the value of the dog, the building refused to change its policy and made threats of eviction and fines. The resident passed away one month after the dog was ultimately removed from home.
The case settled earlier this month and required a significant payment to the deceased resident’s spouse along with other ongoing compliance and fair housing training requirements.
This case is yet another cautionary tale about what can happen if management fails to evaluate and respond to reasonable accommodation and/or reasonable modification requests. In short, if management does not do it right, you may really need a lawyer like me.