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United States Attorney Announces Settlement of Fair Housing Act Case Against Co-op Which Denied Woman Her Comfort Animal

November 09, 2012

Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, today announced the settlement of a federal civil rights suit against the Woodbury Gardens Redevelopment Company Owners Corporation (“Woodbury Gardens”), located at 1900 Fox Hill Drive, Woodbury, Long Island, for violations of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f). Woodbury Gardens is a 214-unit cooperative residential complex for senior citizens. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and requires residential property owners to make reasonable accommodation to allow people with disabilities and their families to use and enjoy their homes.

As set forth in the United States’ complaint, Woodbury Gardens discriminated against Sandra Biegel by refusing to make reasonable accommodation for her multiple disabling conditions, including severe respiratory problems, depression, anxiety, cirrhosis, diabetes, and decreased vision and hearing. In particular, Woodbury Gardens refused to waive its no-pets policy to allow Ms. Biegel to keep her comfort animal, a miniature schnauzer, despite medical documentation from four of Ms. Biegel’s health care providers attesting to her need for the animal in coping with her disabilities. The complaint alleged that Woodbury Gardens sued Ms. Biegel and her husband with eviction and fines, and eventually forced her to give up the animal. Ms. Biegel died just a few weeks later. Even after the Ms. Biegel’s death, Woodbury Gardens pursued Mr. Biegel for legal fees and fines in connection with its eviction action, which he paid.

Under the settlement, Woodbury Gardens will pay $58,750 to Sandra Biegel’s surviving spouse, Jack Biegel. The settlement also enjoins Woodbury Gardens from violating the Fair Housing Act. It also requires Woodbury Gardens to retain all records of accommodation requests for three years and report to the United States Attorney’s Office if it denies a request for a reasonable accommodation of a comfort animal for a disabled person residing in Woodbury Gardens. If a denial violates the Fair Housing Act, the United States Attorney may seek a contempt citation against Woodbury Gardens for violation of the injunction. Finally, all Woodbury Gardens staff must undergo training in compliance with the Fair Housing Act.

“Under the Fair Housing Act, individuals with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation, and this includes the right, where appropriate, to have a comfort animal reside with them,” stated U.S. Attorney Lynch. “This settlement serves notice on building owners and co-op boards in this district that they will be held accountable under the law for their failure to respect the rights of individuals with disabilities.”

Kevan Cleary, Senior Trial Counsel, litigated this case on behalf of the United States.

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