HUD charges Bloomington apartment company with disability discrimination

A federal agency on Thursday alleged that a Bloomington apartment company committed disability discrimination by refusing to permit a prospective renter to have an assistance animal.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it is charging Burnham Rentals LLC and six of its employees for violating the Fair Housing Act’s ban on disability discrimination.

According to HUD, the company refused to permit an Indiana University graduate student with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder to live with a cat that ameliorated her symptoms. The family-owned company cited its no-pets policy as grounds for not allowing the cat at Burnham Place Apartments, 444 E. 3rd St.

Burnham principal John Burnham did not respond to requests for comment from The Indiana Lawyer. HUD’s complaint quotes from an email Burnham sent to the student stating that “I have spoken with my attorney concerning this matter and have been advised that we do not have to allow your cat. If you feel that you need to bring the cat to Bloomington, then you should lease at a pet friendly location.”

HUD said the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to people with disabilities, or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations when necessary to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use a dwelling.

“Not allowing someone with mental health disabilities to keep an assistance animal robs them of their independence as well as the opportunity to fully enjoy their home,” Jeanine Worden, HUD’s acting assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a written statement.

HUD’s complaint said the student inquired about renting from Burnham Rentals in the summer of 2019. She filed her disability complaint with HUD in April 2020.

HUD’s charge will be heard by an administrative law judge unless any party elects for the case to be heard in federal court.

The administrative law judge can award damages resulting from discrimination and also can impose civil penalties and issue an injunction blocking discriminatory conduct.

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