Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California Settle Disability Complaint

Last month, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC, formerly Fair Housing of Marin) and one of its clients settled a housing discrimination complaint, based upon disability, filed with the DepartmenScreen Shot 2017-08-07 at 1.34.05 PMt of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing office.

The complaint was filed against Schultz Investment Co., Greenbrae Management Incl, Belardo Co., L.P., and Thomas Allhoff, Vice President of Schultz.  Allhoff was the primary agent in contact with the client regarding her assistance animal at the Bon Air Apartments in Greenbrae.

The complaints were filed in late 2016 and early 2017. Stacey Kitchin brought the action against her landlord, alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and related state laws on the basis of race and disability, and was joined in the complaint by FHANC, which alleged disability discrimination. Ms. Kitchin was represented by Casey Epp, Supervising Attorney for FHANC. The case was conciliated by HUD for a total of $71,000 in damages and included fair housing training as well as significant policy changes.

Stacey Kitchin, a disabled African-American woman, moved in with her small service dog at Bon Air Apartments in Greenbrae over 15 years ago. She initially requested and was approved for a reasonable accommodation in 2010 to have her service animal with her. However, despite having permission to have her service animal with her, Mr. Allhoff sent Ms. Kitchin repeated notices alleging lease violations because of her service animal. In addition, he accused her small dog of attacking maintenance workers. She provided proof to the contrary, both through letters of support through neighbors, as well as evidence that her dog was not present during one alleged attack.

“I want everyone to know that people with disabilities deserve the same opportunities to enjoy their living space as others, and that landlords need to consider reasonable accommodation requests,” said Ms. Kitchin. “It was difficult to get over the disrespect I experienced with Mr. Allhoff. hired Mr. Allhoff, who put me down and abused me with his words and threats to my tenancy for years.  I am thankful for the help I received from Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California with my complaint. They spent a lot of time and I appreciated their expertise. Thanks to them, Andrea Schultz will know the importance of hiring people who follow the law and I hope she and Mr. Allhoff learn something from the fair housing training they are required to take.”

In May 2014, Ms. Kitchin contacted Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California for assistance after receiving a 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit, requiring the removal of her service animal.  FHANC’s staff attorney contacted Allhoff, informing him of the law and requesting a rescission of the notice. Ultimately, he complied and granted the request; however, he continued to implement discriminatory policies regarding assistance animals. FHANC received several calls for assistance from people with disabilities in 2014 and 2015, and intervened a number of times, reiterating to Mr. Allhoff the protections afforded to disabled individuals who require assistance animals, including companion animals, in their home. FHANC conducted its own investigation, conducting two paired site tests and a single, stand-alone site test for disability discrimination at the Greenbrae leasing office.

“Despite numerous interventions from our office, a housing provider managing hundreds of units knowingly violated fair housing laws for years,” said Casey Epp. “I worry about all of the potential tenants and prospective tenants who experienced discrimination and did not contact our office for assistance. It’s important for landlords to know that there are consequences for disregarding fair housing laws and the impact discrimination can have on tenants.”

In addition to the payment of damages to both complainants, the housing providers have agreed to the following: creating and implementing a written reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification policy advising employees, tenants and prospective tenants that an emotional support or companion animal may qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act; changing the lease to remove discriminatory language and notify existing tenants of the revised lease; implementing a tracking system for reasonable accommodation and modification requests, (providing this tracking sheet to HUD with dates of request, approval/denial, and other information on an annual basis for three years); attending a live fair housing training on an annual basis for two years; displaying HUD’s assistance animal poster in its leasing office and garbage facilities, and other relief.

“On an ongoing basis, our agency receives many calls from people with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations,” said Caroline Peattie, FHANC’s Executive Director. “Many of those calls concern service and companion animals; both must receive the same consideration under fair housing law. When a person with a disability requests an accommodation, the housing providers may require documentation that there is a disability and that the request will address that need, but they are required to consider each request individually and engage in an interactive dialogue with the tenant.”

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