The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of rental homes in and near Kelso and Longview, Wash., for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against persons with disabilities.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleges that Linda Barber, Bert Barber and Lori Thompson engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act or denied rights protected by the Act. Specifically, the lawsuit asserts that the defendants established and implemented a discriminatory policy that allowed waiver of the defendants’ mandatory $1,000 “pet deposit” for service animals with specialized training, but not for other assistance animals, including emotional support animals. The suit also alleges that, by refusing a tenant’s requests for a reasonable accommodation to waive the $1,000 pet deposit for her assistance animal, the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act.
“The Fair Housing Act ensures that individuals with disabilities who live with and benefit from assistance animals have equal access to housing,” said Eric Halperin, Senior Counsel and Special Counsel for Fair Lending in the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws that protect the rights of persons with disabilities.”
“The rights of our disabled citizens need to be protected and landlords should not engage in conduct that makes their lives more difficult,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan for the Western District of Washington. “A tenant should not have to repeatedly prove they need a service animal or other accommodation, and should not face retaliation when they make a complaint to those tasked with protecting their civil rights.”
This lawsuit arose as a result of a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A low-income tenant with a mental disability repeatedly asked the defendants to waive the $1,000 pet deposit for her assistance animal and provided numerous notes from medical professionals to support her request. As a result of the defendants’ policy and their failure to grant her request, she waited for over two and a half years to obtain an assistance animal and then began to pay the deposit in monthly installments at great financial hardship. After filing her HUD complaint, she was subjected to retaliation and harassment by the defendants, and she eventually moved out of the defendants’ unit. After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department.
“Housing providers must grant reasonable accommodations needed by residents with disabilities,” said Bryan Greene, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD and the Department of Justice are committed to ensuring that everyone has equal housing opportunities and is able to exercise their fair housing rights without fear of retaliation.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions, and a civil penalty. Any individuals who have information relevant to this case are to contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743, ext. 7.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.