RISMEDIA, July 9, 2007—The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it has charged Mahmoud Hussein, a landlord in Windsor Locks, Conn., with violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to renew the lease of a woman whose disabled child needs a service animal.
In early June 2005, Ann Mitchell asked to have her housing voucher transferred from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. After contacting the Windsor Locks Housing Authority regarding available properties, the authority referred her to Hussein’s single-family rental property, which was listed as being available.
In late June 2005, Mitchell said she went to look at the property and explained to Hussein that her daughter suffers from a disability and requires a service animal. Hussein allegedly told Mitchell that he would not rent the house to her if the service animal was going to be present. Because she needed to get her daughter settled before school began, Mitchell placed her daughter’s service animal with another family and signed a one-year lease with Hussein in July of 2005.
By September of that year, the frequency and severity of her daughter’s seizures had increased. The daughter’s doctor attributed this to the loss of her service animal and recommended that Mitchell get a “therapy dog” for her daughter.
During the months that followed, Mitchell said she repeatedly attempted to give Hussein a copy of the letter from her daughter’s doctor and requested that she be allowed a service animal, but Hussein allegedly continued to refuse the accommodation.
In June 2006, Mitchell talked to Hussein about renewing her lease and told him that her daughter would be getting another service animal in February 2007. Mitchell alleged that when Hussein heard this, he refused to renew her lease.
“Service animals allow persons with disabilities to maintain their independence and enhance their quality of life,” said Kim Kendrick, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “When we find that individuals are being unjustly denied such a reasonable accommodation, we will take action.”
Mitchell’s complaint was referred to HUD by the Connecticut Fair Housing Council, one of HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program agencies. Housing discrimination charges heard before an administrative law judge carry a maximum civil penalty of $16,000 for a first offense, in addition to actual damages for the complainant, injunctive or other equitable relief, and attorney fees. Sanctions can be more severe if the respondent has previously violated the Fair Housing Act. Parties also have the right to elect to have their cases heard in federal district court. Should either party elect to go to district court, either party may request a jury trial.
In either forum, the case is brought on behalf of the complainant. Complaints heard before an administrative law judge are litigated by an attorney from HUD, while complaints that go to federal district court are litigated by an attorney from the Department of Justice. Each party also has the right to be represented by his or her own attorney.
HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate approximately 10,300 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.