PULASKI COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s Office of Civil Rights has settled a lawsuit involving four counts of housing discrimination against the owner and property managers of a Pulaski County townhome community who allegedly threatened to evict a couple because of their assistance animal.
According to a statement released by the Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday, Feb. 10, Herring and his team argued on behalf of the Virginia Fair Housing Board in this case.
“Virginians with disabilities have the right to live with an assistance animal, especially if that assistance animal helps them live happier, more full lives – assistance animals are not pets and cannot be subject to fees or breed and weight restrictions like other pets can be.Attorney General Mark Herring
Assistance animals, like the Butler’s, are often the best way for individuals with debilitating symptoms caused by various mental or physical impairments to substantially improve their quality of life. I am proud of my newly created Office of Civil Rights for their hard work on this case and I hope this sends a message to other landlords that housing discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth.”
Before and after moving into their apartment in the Unique Deerfield Village Townhomes Complex (Deerfield), Charlene and Michael Butler requested and provided clinical verification of the need to bring Charlene’s assistance dog to live with them, officials say.
However, the on-site property managers repeatedly refused the Butlers’ accommodation request and instead imposed weight limits and pet deposit fees on the assistance animal, according to Wednesday’s statement.
When the Butlers elevated their request, the Attorney General’s Office says Jeffrey Stump — the owner of Deerfield — sent the Butlers a written denial saying, “It has come to my attention that you have a pet residing in your unit. It makes no difference that is an emotional support dog. It is still a pet.”
Even though officials say Stump followed through on his threat by trying to evict the Butlers, the Butlers won that court case and filed a complaint with the Virginia Fair Housing Office alleging housing discrimination .
After the Virginia Fair Housing Office conducted a thorough investigation, the Fair Housing Board reportedly found reasonable cause to believe that Stump and the property managers illegally discriminated against the Butlers through the following actions:
- Refusal to grant a reasonable accommodation
- Refusal to rent based on disability
- Imposition of discriminatory terms and conditions based on disability
- Intimidation, harassment, or coercion on account of having exercised fair housing rights
After attorneys from Herring’s Office of Civil Rights filed a complaint in Pulaski County Circuit Court, the parties were able to agree on a resolution without further litigation.
“I am thankful to both the Attorney General’s office and HOME for all of their help in this matter. If you are being harassed by your landlord due to your disability, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc., please speak up!” said Charlene Butler. “Everyone has the right to live in a safe, comfortable environment. The Attorney General’s office will stand up for you against discrimination and legal aid in your area can help you with a tenant’s assertion.”
According to the Attorney General’s Office, as part of the settlement, the landlord must adopt non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation policies, attend fair housing training annually for three years, and pay the Butlers $30,000 as compensation. In addition, any time a future applicant or tenant requests a reasonable accommodation at Deerfield, the landlord is required provide them with the community policy that explains how to process the request.
“Residential housing providers may request and obtain reliable, credible disability verification in support of accommodation requests for assistance animals; however, they cannot require overly burdensome documentation,” the Attorney General’s Office said in Wednesday’s statement. “Guidance issued by the Fair Housing Board to address issues regarding the verification of reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals, particularly those that provide emotional support or other seemingly untrained assistance to people with disabilities, is available here.”
Virginians who believe they have experienced housing discrimination may file a complaint by calling the Virginia Fair Housing Office at (888) 551-3247.
In addition, any Virginians who believe they have experienced other forms discrimination are encouraged reach out to Herring’s Office of Civil Rights by calling (804) 786-2071 or emailing CivilRights@oag.state.va.us.