HUD Settles Discrimination Case With Condo Association
A Florida Condo Association is on the losing end of a disability discrimination case for the second time after HUD settled a case at the end of August. Del Vista Towers Condominium Association and its management company, AKAM On-Site, entered into a Conciliation Agreement with HUD on August 23, 2016, agreeing to compensate an aggrieved resident and to make a donation to a non-profit disability rights organization. In addition, the association and management company have agreed to develop a reasonable accommodation policy which must be approved by HUD.
The complaint stems from an investigation launched by HUD in April of 2014 following HUD’s receipt of numerous reposts of rights violations from Del Vista Towers residents. One resident complained that she had requested that her disabled son be given accommodation for use of a service dog. She was denied accommodation because the association was defending several expensive lawsuits regarding service animals. Later, her lease was not renewed. The resident alleged retaliation. Other residents had similar complaints. Many reported that they feared requesting accommodation because of the history of retaliation by the association.
This was not Del Vista Towers’ first loss in a disability discrimination case. In 2014, the Association was a defendant in a federal lawsuit. A resident, aware of the condo’s no-pet policy, sought accommodation for his pit bull as a service animal. The board denied the request on the basis that pit bulls are restricted breeds in Miami-Dade County. The resident brought suit in Federal Court in Miami. The court ruled in the resident’s favor. In denying the association’s motion for summary judgment, the court held that “emotional support animals need not be specifically trained, because the symptoms the animal ameliorates are mental and emotional rather than physical.” If the county ordinance were to be enforced, housing discrimination would exist in practice.
Condo associations and landlords need to be aware of the Fair Housing Act in all respects and careful in its application as it pertains to disabilities and service animals. Courts and HUD will give deference to “reasonable accommodation” language in the statute and the burden is on the housing provider to show why accommodation would be “unreasonable”. Del Vista Towers has lost cases twice now, likely at a high cost to its residents.