Manhattan U.S. Attorney Sues Co-Op For Refusing To Allow Disabled Shareholder To Keep An Assistance Animal
Lawsuit Follows Determination By Department Of Housing And Urban Development That Co-Op Engaged In Discrimination On The Basis Of Disability
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has filed a lawsuit against EAST RIVER HOUSING CORP., (“EAST RIVER”), a housing cooperative located at 573 Grand Street in Manhattan, for violating the Fair Housing Act. The Government alleges that EAST RIVER discriminated against a disabled tenant of the cooperative, Stephanie Aaron, by failing to permit a reasonable accommodation of the tenant’s psychiatric disability.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The Fair Housing Act plainly allows tenants with disabilities to keep assistance animals, and we will not hesitate to file suit to combat discrimination in this area.”
As alleged in the Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court:
Aaron suffers from chronic major depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In August 2012, Aaron took in a stray dog, and, within a few days, began to notice improvement in the symptoms of her lifelong mental illness. A few weeks later, EAST RIVER ordered Aaron to remove the dog. Aaron requested that EAST RIVER allow her to keep the dog as a reasonable accommodation of her psychiatric disability, submitting a psychiatrist’s letter in support of her request.
EAST RIVER did not respond to the request for reasonable accommodation and instead gave Aaron a deadline to vacate her apartment. Aaron then submitted another request for reasonable accommodation, again attaching the letter from her psychiatrist. EAST RIVER denied this request. A few days later, Aaron was notified that EAST RIVER had commenced an eviction proceeding against her. Aaron’s attorney then sent a third reasonable accommodation request to EAST RIVER, attaching the psychiatrist’s letter for a third time. Two months later, Aaron’s psychiatrist and psychologist sent additional letters to EAST RIVER. EAST RIVER did not respond to those letters. Instead, it continued the eviction proceeding against Aaron.
Aaron initially filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Upon investigation, HUD determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that the Fair Housing Act had been violated. Thereafter, EAST RIVER elected pursuant to the Fair Housing Act to have HUD’s determination resolved in federal court.
In these circumstances, the Fair Housing Act authorizes the Department of Justice to commence an action in United States District Court on behalf of Aaron. The Complaint seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief for Aaron.
Mr. Bharara thanked HUD for its efforts in the investigation.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth M. Tulis is in charge of the case.