|HUD No. 23-204
HUD Public Affairs
September 18, 2023
HUD Charges Landlord with Disability Discrimination
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it is charging Ronit Mecham and Voyl “Tom” Mecham, the owner and property manager of a dwelling in Jamestown, New York, with violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to allow a tenant with a disability to live with her assistance animal. Read the charge here.
The Fair Housing Act (“Act”) prohibits discrimination based on disability. This includes refusing to provide reasonable accommodation so that persons with disabilities can have an equal opportunity to enjoy their housing. A reasonable accommodation includes waiving a “no pet” policy for assistance animals. The Act also prohibits statements that indicate a preference or limitation based on disability.
“Assistance animals provide people with disabilities the support they need to enjoy the benefits of their housing,” said Demetria L. McCain, HUD’s Principal Assistant Deputy Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD is committed to zealously enforcing the Act to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.”
HUD’s Charge of Discrimination alleges that Respondents denied the tenant’s request for an assistance animal and then presented her with the option to either terminate the lease early or leave upon the end of the lease term. Although the tenant offered to submit medical documentation supporting her request, the Respondents stopped communicating with her instead. Additionally, the charge alleges that Respondents made comments indicating a preference for non-disabled tenants.
“The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations that are necessary for an individual with disabilities to have equal enjoyment of housing,” said Damon Smith, HUD’s General Counsel. “That can include making exceptions to animal prohibitions.”
A United States Administrative Law Judge will hear HUD’s Charge unless any party to the Charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds, after a hearing, that discrimination has occurred, they may award damages to the individuals for their losses as a result of the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination and payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties to vindicate the public interest. If the federal court hears the case, the judge may also award punitive damages to the complainant.
People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at (800) 669-9777 (voice) 800-927-9275 (TTY) or the Department of Justice at (800) 896-7743 or 202-514-4713. Additional information is available at www.hud.gov/fairhousing and www.justice.gov. Materials and assistance are available for persons with limited English proficiency. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may contact the Department using the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.