University Agrees to Allow Assistance Animals in Student Housing

The University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) and the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska recently agreed to pay $140,000 to two former students to settle a fair housing lawsuit involving assistance animals in student housing.

“This is an important settlement for students with disabilities not only at UNK but throughout the country,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “Assistance animals such as emotional support dogs can provide critical support and therapeutic benefits for persons with psychological disabilities. The Fair Housing Act requires that universities accommodate students who need such animals in order to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of university housing.”

In its complaint, the Justice Department alleged that the university violated fair housing law when, in 2010, it denied requests to allow two students with psychological disabilities to keep an emotional support dog with them in a 102-unit apartment complex that the university operates for students near its campus. One of the students filed a complaint with HUD, which investigated and referred the matter to the Justice Department.

Under the settlement, which must still be approved by a federal court, the university agreed to change its housing policy to allow persons with psychological disabilities to keep animals with them in university housing where such animals provide necessary therapeutic benefits to such students.

Editor’s Note: This month, Fair Housing Coach begins a two-part lesson on the “Dos & Don’ts When Handling Requests for Assistance Animals.” In Part 1, October’s lesson explains who qualifies as an individual with a disability and when you must consider making exceptions to your pet policies as a reasonable accommodation so they may keep an assistance animal at the community. In Part 2, November’s lesson will focus on common questions about assistance animals, including weight and size limitations, breed restrictions, requests for multiple animals, health and safety concerns, and how to address property damage from assistance animals.