Montana Landlord Hit with $37,000 Jury Verdict in Disability Discrimination Case

A federal jury recently returned a $37,343 verdict against a Montana landlord for charging a resident with physical and psychiatric disabilities $1,000 to have a service animal, according to the Justice Department.

The lawsuit alleged that the owner and manager of rental properties in Bozeman discriminated against a resident with a traumatic brain injury by charging her a $1,000 deposit as a condition for allowing her to keep her service dog, Riley. The DOJ became involved after the tenant filed a complaint with HUD.

At trial, the resident, her treating therapist, and an independent expert testified that Riley assisted the resident in living with the symptoms of her disabilities, including providing emotional support, helping to predict migraines, and reducing suicidal thoughts. The resident also testified that she repeatedly informed the landlord that charging a deposit for a service animal was illegal, but the landlord continued to levy this charge and, at one point, threatened to evict her.

The verdict includes $31,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages for the resident, and $6,000 for a fair housing organization that assisted her with her HUD complaint.

“Persons with disabilities have the right to live in and enjoy their communities, just as all families do throughout our nation,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “We commend the jury for recognizing that the Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against persons with disabilities, and we will continue to work to eliminate discriminatory barriers in housing for persons with disabilities.”

“Many people with disabilities require the assistance of an animal to carry out major daily activities,” said General Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Complaints alleging disability discrimination now account for the majority of the complaints HUD receives. HUD will continue to enforce the law and educate the public on the rights of people with disabilities in housing.”