Defendant Agrees to Allow Tenant to Keep Assistance Animal and Implement a Reasonable Accommodation Policy
Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has entered into a consent decree to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the United States against 111 EAST 88TH STREET PARTNERS (“111 PARTNERS”), for violating the Fair Housing Act. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that 111 PARTNERS discriminated against a disabled, rent-controlled tenant (the “Tenant”) by refusing to permit the Tenant to live with an assistance animal to accommodate the Tenant’s disability, as a reasonable accommodation to defendant’s policies, and by interfering with the Tenant’s exercise of his rights under the Fair Housing Act.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “This is yet another lawsuit brought to enforce the rights of tenants with disabilities to live with an assistance animal. With this resolution, we again emphasize that condominiums, cooperatives, landlords, and property managers are required by federal law to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities.”
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in the terms and conditions of the sale or rental of, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling based on the prospective buyer or renter’s disability. The law also mandates that reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, and services be provided when necessary to afford equal housing opportunities to persons with disabilities.
According to the allegations in the Amended Complaint filed in federal court:
111 Partners is the owner of certain units in a 61-unit condominium located in New York, New York, and the landlord of the rent-controlled apartment that the Tenant occupies in the building. The Tenant, now 58 years old, has resided in that apartment his entire life and has a long history of depression. In 2006, the Tenant adopted a dog to help alleviate his depression and requested a reasonable accommodation to defendant’s “no pets” policy to allow him to reside with his dog in the apartment. Defendant not only denied the request, but also initiated eviction proceedings against him. While those proceedings were underway, in spring 2015, the Tenant was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease, and his depression worsened. The Tenant promptly sought another reasonable accommodation to 111 Partners’ “no pets” policy to allow him to keep his dog in the apartment given the substantial emotional assistance the dog provided and the Tenant’s changed circumstances. 111 Partners constructively denied the request by requiring the onerous disclosure of detailed medical records and other information, despite the Tenant’s already well-substantiated request and defendant’s familiarity with his condition. In June 2017, after his dog died and during the pendency of this litigation, the Tenant again requested a reasonable accommodation to 111 Partners’ “no pets” policy to permit him to adopt another dog for emotional support, and once again, 111 Partners constructively denied the request – requiring extensive documentation despite the fact that the Tenant had continued to provide documents, expert opinions, medical records, and sworn testimony in support of his request.
Under the consent decree approved by U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe on July 14, 2020, 111 PARTNERS must:
· Adopt a reasonable accommodation policy regarding requests for assistance animals;
· Comply with certain notice, training, and recordkeeping requirements to ensure that its employees are knowledgeable about and comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act;
· Allow the United States to monitor compliance with the consent decree;
· Dismiss all pending state court litigation against the Tenant, including the eviction proceedings commenced in 2006 regarding his request to keep an emotional support animal and termination proceedings commenced in 2019 regarding apartment conditions, and waive all claims to attorney’s fees and costs;
· Grant the Tenant a reasonable accommodation for the remainder of his tenancy, such that he can adopt and reside with a dog for as long as the Tenant lives in the apartment, without submitting any further reasonable accommodation requests.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Waterman is in charge of the case.