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HUD charges St. Paul Apartment operators with disability discrimination

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the agency charged Mark Frisch, Jennifer Costello, Major Management Company, and Larpenteur Estate Apartments, LLC, operators of a 220-unit apartment building in St. Paul, Minnesota, with discriminating against a prospective tenant based on disability by refusing to allow her assistance animal in the unit. 

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on disability. This form of discrimination includes refusing to allow reasonable accommodations that would otherwise allow a tenant with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. A reasonable accommodation includes a waiver of a “no pet” rule for assistance animals. The Act also prohibits statements that indicate a preference or limitation based on disability.

HUD’s Charge of Discrimination alleges that the complainant attempted to rent a unit at the subject property for herself and her husband. However, after she notified Costello, the property manager, that she had an assistance animal, he said that she could not have an animal in the unit. He then suggested that she apply for an apartment somewhere else. The complainant further alleges that when she elevated the matter to Frisch, an owner of both the property and Major Management, he allegedly admonished her, saying that she should think of her neighbors who live at the property because it is “animal-free” and asked her why she did not “go and find somewhere else to live.” She exclaimed, “you are welcome, your animal is not!”

“Assistance animals provide people with disabilities the support they need to live comfortably in their home,” said Demetria L. McCain, HUD Principal Assistant Deputy Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Today’s action demonstrates HUD’s ongoing commitment to take appropriate action when housing providers fail to comply with the Fair Housing Act.”

“The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to provide accommodations that are reasonable and necessary, and that includes permitting the use of assistance animals,” said HUD General Counsel Damon Smith. “HUD is committed to vigorously enforcing the Act to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.”

United States Administrative Law Judge will hear HUD’s charge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds, after a hearing, that discrimination has occurred, they may award damages to the family for their losses as a result of the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties to vindicate the public interest. If the federal court hears the case, the judge may also award punitive damages to the complainant.

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