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Lawsuits Against Landlords Cost Owners Thousands! By- the Editors of the Rental Housing Journal

Posted on 01. Sep, 2020 by in all

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Settlement agreements send a clear message to all property owners and landlords that HUD is committed to taking appropriate action when offenders act in behavior that violates the Fair Housing Act.

Landlords to Pay Tenants to Settle

Sexual Discrimination Complaint

The owners and manager of a Bakersfield, California apartment complex have agreed to pay $14,500 to several female residents to settle allegations of sexual harassment, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Under the terms of the agreement, the owners will pay the women who filed the complaint $10,000 in six installments and attend mandatory fair housing training.  The owners will also pay $4,500 to two other aggrieved female residents.

In addition, the property manager will be permanently prohibited from directly or indirectly engaging in or conducting any property management responsibilities.  He is no longer employed and does not serve as property manager of the subject property.

Two women filed the initial complain and the agreement states that the owners and property manager subjected the women to differential treatment based on sex and subjected them to sexual harassment.

“Throughout the course of the investigation, two additional female tenants also alleged that the respondent subjected them to unwelcomed sexual comments and unwelcomed sexual advances”, the settlement states.

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for housing providers to sexually harass tenants.  This includes creating a severe or pervasive hostile housing environment, or conditioning housing or housing-related services on the tenant’s acquiescence to sexual demands, HUD said in the release.

“A home should be a place of peace and security, not fear and anxiety because of sexual harassment,” said HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, in the release.

 

Landlord Must Pay Tenant Allergic to

Neighbor’s Emotional Support Dog

A court has ruled that a landlord caught in a “pickle” must pay a tenant with dog allergies the value of one month’s rent because a nearby apartment was leased to another tenant with an emotional support dog, according to The Gazette, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The apartment building had a no-pet policy, but the landlord made an accommodation required under Fair Housing rules for the tenant with the emotional-support dog.

 

After years of litigation, in a 4-3 decision, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned a district court ruling that concluded the landlord, 2800-1 LLC, shouldn’t have allowed the tenant to have a dog because of the other tenant’s pet allergies; the lower court then dismissed the case because the law governing accommodations for emotional-support animals wasn’t clear, The Gazette newspaper said.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen, who wrote for the majority, said the two tenants — one who had severe allergies, and one who had the emotional support dog — had the landlord in a “pickle” trying to accommodate both of them.

The landlord was caught “in a pickle” trying to accommodate emotional support dog and a nearby tenant with allergies to dogs.

However, the landlord, who isn’t identified by name in the ruling, should have denied the dog request because [the tenant with the allergies] lived there first and the dog posed a direct threat to her health.

Christensen pointed out that this ruling is based on the specific facts of this case.

“Our balancing in this case is not a one-size-fits-all test that will create the same result under different circumstances, such as when the animal at issue is a service animal for a visually disabled person,” Christensen told the newspaper.

The court concluded that [the tenant] who suffered allergic attacks, was entitled to her claims of breach of lease and breach of the “covenant of quiet enjoyment.” The ruling shows that she has a “medically documented severe allergy” to pet dander that causes nasal congestion, swollen sinuses and excess coughing. Her allergic reaction is more severe when exposed to cats, requiring her to carry an epinephrine auto-injectable device to protect against anaphylactic shock.

She needed an apartment that didn’t allow pets and signed a lease from 2800-1 LLC on Nov. 11, 2015 for the term of July 2016 to July 2017. She relied on the lease that stated no pets were allowed in the building.

On Jan. 18, 2016, [the tenant with the emotional support animal] signed a lease to rent an apartment down the hall from her during the same lease period, according to the ruling. His lease also included the no-pet provision. On or around Aug. 23, 2016, he provided the landlord with a letter from his psychiatrist that explained he had an “impairment in his ability to function.” The psychiatrist asked the landlord to allow him to have an emotional support dog to benefit his “health and well-being.”

The leasing and property manager notified other tenants in the building to see if anyone had allergies to dogs, according to the ruling. [One tenant] responded, detailing her allergies to dogs and cats.

The property manager then contacted the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and requested a formal agency determination, even though nobody had filed a complaint, the ruling states. The commission employee said the property manager and landlord should accommodate both tenants, instead of just denying the request for the emotional support dog. There was no formal finding by the commission regarding this situation, according to the ruling.

The Davis Brown law firm writes on https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/conflict-over-emotional-support-animals-36699/ that “The court noted that the first-in-time factor ‘tipped the balance’ in the [allergic tenant’s] favor.” The court also explained that the first-in-time factor aligned with those of other courts that have rejected requested changes to a residential complex’s contract when those changes interfere with the rights of third parties.

“The takeaway: Landlords can and should consider this first-in-time principle in their analysis of accommodation requests where the well-being of two tenants conflict with one another. Though, landlords must remember the first-in-time principle is only one factor in their analysis,” the Davis Brown firm writes.

The landlord allowed the dog and assigned [both tenants] to use separate stairwells to keep one free from pet dander, according to the ruling. The landlord also bought an air purifier for [the allergic tenant’s] apartment.

 

Tenant Files Suit

The yearlong efforts were insufficient to prevent her from having allergic reactions to the dog, and she had to limit the time she spent in her apartment. She said she felt as if she had a permanent cold.

Then she filed a small-claims action against the landlord for one month’s rent as damages. After a hearing, the court dismissed her case, concluding the landlord made reasonable accommodations of both of the tenants’ needs. There was no breach of contract of quiet enjoyment.

She appealed to the district court, which concluded that the landlord made sufficient efforts that would justify denying the request for the emotional support dog, and dismissed her claims because the law was unclear. The Iowa Supreme Court then overturned that decision.

Final Thoughts

The Brown Davis law firm on JD Supra writes, “While this landlord seemed to try its best navigating the waters of fair-housing law and conflicting tenant interests, such efforts were not sufficient.

“Hindsight is always 20/20, but perhaps this landlord should have continued to work through the interactive process with both tenants to find a goal that was acceptable to both tenants; should have informed one of the option of moving to another building; could have tried to obtain a formal opinion ruling from the ICRC (Iowa Civil Rights Commission) on, and/or should have sought legal counsel earlier in the process.”

The RentalHousingJournal.com is an interactive community of multifamily investors, independent rental home owners, residential property management professionals and other rental housing and real estate professionals. It is the most comprehensive source for news and information for the rental housing industry. Their website features exclusive articles and blogs on real estate investing, apartment market trends, property management best practices, landlord tenant laws, apartment marketing, maintenance and more.

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