Department of Justice Addresses Disability Discrimination in Housing

In recent proposed settlements in Wisconsin and Ohio, the U.S. Department of Justice targets disability discrimination against tenants by landlords.

Courtroom gavel on top of document.
The Fair Housing Act is one of many laws protecting people of all abilities. photo credit: My Trusty Gavel via photopin (license)

The Fair Housing Act establishes that housing should be accessible to people of all abilities.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice, a Wisconsin landlord and manager allegedly “discriminated against two residents of Applewood Apartments, a mother and daughter living together, and denied them rights by refusing to renew the residents’ lease because of their disabilities; demanding that they develop a ‘plan’ to deal with the daughter’s purported disability-related behavior (she is a person with Down Syndrome); and pressuring them to move.”

Discrimination, according to the press release, allegedly included not taking “prompt action to correct and end disability-related harassment by other tenants,” such as when other tenants made called the daughter “mentally retarded,” and stated “You don’t belong here. . . you belong in an institution,” as well as tenants interfering with their daily life on the premises.

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The U.S. Department of Justice ensures that Americans are treated fairly under the law. photo credit: Scales of Justice – Frankfurt Version via photopin (license)

According to the press release, terms of the settlement with the landlord are subject to U.S. District Court approval, and would include:

  • paying the complainants $40,000 in damages;
  • maintaining non-discrimination policies;
  • advertising themselves as equal opportunity housing provider; and
  • attending fair housing training.

Another case involves student housing at Kent State University in Ohio, according to a Department of Justice press release.

According to the release, the lawsuit alleges that Kent State University (KSU) “maintained a policy of not allowing students with psychological disabilities to keep emotional support animals in university-operated student housing.”

Picture of nine service animals with service animal vests.
Whether they are for physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities, the right to a service dog is in most cases guaranteed under the law. photo credit: Service Dogs of Hawaii Fi-Do, Training Session, Working Dogs, Job, Group Photo via photopin (license)

A settlement agreement between the department and university must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. If approved, KSU will:

  • pay $100,000 to two former students who allegedly were “denied a reasonable accommodation to keep an emotional support dog in their university-operated apartment;”
  • pay $30,000 to the fair housing organization that advocated on behalf of the students;
  • pay $15,000 to the United States; and
  • adopt a housing policy that allows people with psychological disabilities to “keep animals with them in university housing when such animals provide necessary therapeutic benefits to such students and allowing the animal would not fundamentally alter the nature of the housing.”

The university has also agreed to accommodate similar requests in the future, according to the release.

“This settlement shows the department’s continued and strong commitment to ensuring that students in university housing are afforded the protections of the Fair Housing Act,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said in the release.

The settlement demonstrates that on-campus housing has to comply with the Fair Housing Act like other housing providers.

Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov , or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs’ website .

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