Nation's Largest Cooperative Settles Suit Over Its Assistance Animal Policy

The Justice Department and HUD recently announced a settlement in a civil rights lawsuit against the largest affordable housing cooperative in the United States, alleging disability discrimination against people who require service or assistance animals. The community is located in the Bronx, N.Y., with approximately 15,372 residential units and 60,000 residents.

The lawsuit accused the community of enforcing an overly burdensome and intrusive policy governing waivers to its no-pets rule, which has deterred and prevented persons with disabilities from obtaining reasonable accommodations, in violation of the federal fair housing law.

Specifically, the complaint alleged that until its policies were changed in late 2011, the community’s application for requesting a reasonable accommodation to its no-pets rule consisted of five forms (including one required to be completed only in blue ink and another required to be typewritten), prohibited certain breeds of dogs, required animals to be neutered or spayed, imposed annual renewal requirements, and required the applicant to provide his or her medical records. Allegedly, the community amended the policies twice since then, but left many of those provisions in place, including a prohibition against certain breeds of animals, a prohibition that the community could waive based only on an applicant’s “medical need” for that particular breed.

Under the settlement, the community agreed to change its reasonable accommodation policy regarding assistance animals. The community will also pay a civil penalty of up to $50,000, and dedicate as much as $600,000 to compensate people who have been harmed by inadequate accessibility at the community.

“Assistance animals provide vital support and therapeutic benefits for persons with disabilities,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “This significant settlement underscores the department’s commitment to ensuring that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for individuals who rely on assistance animals to use and enjoy their homes.”

Source: Justice Department