WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it has charged Sunrise Villas, LLC, with housing discrimination for allegedly refusing to allow residents at its Long Island, NY, age 55-and-over housing complex to have service animals that assist persons with disabilities.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate based on disability `by refusing to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodation may be necessary to afford a person with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
Long Island Housing Services, a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives program agency that promotes equal housing opportunities throughout Long Island, initially received a complaint regarding Sunrise Villas's denial of a disabled resident's request to make a reasonable modification. While investigating the complaint, Long Island Housing Services discovered Sunrise Villas's very strict "no pets" policy and conducted three tests of the property, which led to the charge of discrimination.
According to the HUD charge, Sunrise Villas maintains a strict "no pets" policy at its Long Island property and will not accommodate disabled persons who require a service animal. The charge alleges that the tests showed that it was Sunrise's practice to exclude tenants who require service animals. Testers who stated that they needed service animals were told by Sunrise Villas rental agents that no animals are allowed at the complex.
"Service animals play unique and significant roles in the daily lives of persons with disabilities," said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "Policies against service animals deny those who are disabled equal access to housing and the right to fully enjoy their home. HUD is deeply committed to enforcing the Fair Housing Act to make sure that this does not happen."
The HUD charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to the complainant for its damages as a result of the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees.
In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties in order to vindicate the public interest. In the event of an election, a federal district court judge may also award punitive damages to the complainant.
FHEO and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate approximately 10,500 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 (voice), 800-927-9275 (TTY). Additional information is available at www.hud.gov/fairhousing.
HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to sustaining homeownership; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development and enforces the nation's fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.