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Justice for Pulaski County couple in housing discrimination case

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A complaint against a Pulaski County townhome community that threatened a couple with eviction because of their assistance animal has been settled.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s Office of Civil Rights had argued on behalf of the Virginia Fair Housing Board in the case.

Complainants Charlene and Michael Butler requested and provided clinical verification of the need to bring Charlene’s assistance dog to live with them in the Unique Deerfield Village Townhomes Complex. The on-site property managers repeatedly refused their request, instead imposing weight limits and pet deposit fees on the assistance animal.

When the Butlers elevated their request, the owner of Deerfield, Jeffrey Stump, sent the Butlers a written denial that threatened eviction.

“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,” Stump wrote in the denial, then made good on the threat and attempted to evict the Butlers.

The Butlers prevailed in that court case and filed a complaint alleging housing discrimination with the Virginia Fair Housing Office.

“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,” Herring said. “Assistance animals, like the Butlers’, 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.”

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.

Moving forward, any time an applicant or tenant requests a reasonable accommodation at Deerfield, the landlord must provide them with the community policy that explains how to process the request.

“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!” Charlene Butler said. “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.”

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.

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 contacting the Virginia Fair Housing Office at:

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