Blind Tenant settles guide dog lawsuit against apartment complex

Contacts: Galen Martin or Kevin Kijewski
Phone: 502-583-3247
Fax: 502-583-3180

For Release December 10, 1998 Order and Settlement Agreement which settled the claims of two tenants and the Fair Housing Council against an apartment complex in southwest Louisville. Ables & Hall Builders and Hawthorne Place Apartments agreed to pay the tenants and the Council $25,000 to settle claims that the manager at Hawthorne Place told a blind person she could not keep her guide dog in the apartment and sent a letter ordering a current tenant to remove the blind person and her dog.

As alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaint, in February 1998 Raquel Kooima leased an apartment at Hawthorne Place Apartments. Raquel Kooima moved into the apartment and lived there alone for approximately one week. On February 20, 1998, at or near 2:30 p.m., Maria Delgado, who is blind, and her guide dog, "Dave," moved into the apartment. At that time, the manager, Janet Thornton approached Raquel Kooima and asked who Maria was. Raquel said that Maria was going to be her roommate. Janet Thornton said that Maria had to be on the lease. Janet Thornton then saw Dave, the service animal. Janet Thornton then said that Hawthorne Place does not allow pets. Maria and Raquel explained that Dave was not a pet but a guide dog which Maria needed because she is blind.

Janet Thornton said, "Well, a lot of people try to sneak pets into the apartments. We don't want your dog here because then the neighbors would want a dog, too." Janet Thornton again told Maria and Raquel that Maria would have to be put on the lease.

Maria said, "O.K."

Janet Thornton then said that she would bring-up the application so Maria could sign the lease. Janet Thornton came back and said to Raquel, "She (Maria) can stay, but without the dog."

Raquel said, "But the dog is trained, he won't bark or make noise."

Janet Thornton said, "You can't have dogs here. She can stay without the dog, but the dog can't stay here ... she has to leave with the dog. Because if the dog stayed, the neighbors wouldn't understand that the dog is a guide dog." Janet Thornton added, "You will get a letter from my attorney saying that she [Maria] can't stay."

On February 21, 1998, Raquel Kooima received the letter from Defendants' attorney dated February 20, 1998. The letter states that Raquel Kooima must throw Maria Delgado out of the apartment within 14 days or her lease will be terminated and she will be evicted by legal action. On February 26, 1998, Raquel Kooima received another copy of the February 20, 1998 letter from Defendants' attorney by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Because of the manager's acts, Raquel Kooima and Maria Delgado moved out of the apartment by March 6, 1998. The two tenants contacted the Fair Housing Council. The Council advised the women and filed a federal lawsuit on March 4, 1988. The Defendants in the lawsuit included the owners and managers of Hawthorne Place Apartments.

The lawsuit alleged that the failure to allow a blind tenant to have and use a guide dog in their apartment was discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act based on handicap and disability and that it was a violation of the "reasonable accommodation" provisions of the Act. The reasonable accommodation provisions require a landlord or manager to reasonably accommodate a tenant with a disability by allowing changes in the apartment's rules, policies, and practices. Hawthorne Place has a "no pets" policy and rule. The failure of the apartment complex to waive their "no pets" policy was a failure to accommodate the blind tenant's disability. The Regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development clearly state that a landlord must waive a "no pets" policy if a blind person has a guide dog.

On December 7, 1998 the federal court entered an agreed Consent Order and Settlement Agreement which provides that the owners of Hawthorne Place Apartments agree to do the following:

  1. The owners and managers each agree to not discriminate in housing because of race, sex, color, religion, national origin, handicap, or familial status, including refusing to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, and practices when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a handicapped individual equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use areas.
  2. The owners and managers agree to have all the owners and managers and their agents which are involved in the rental and management of all residential rental property owned or controlled by them attend a fair housing training course within six months of December 7, 1998 provided by, supervised by, or approved by the Fair Housing Council;
  3. The owners and managers agree to send or provide written notice within thirty days of December 7, 1998 to all future tenants and applicants for rental housing at any residential real property owned or controlled by the owners or managers that a person with a handicap or disability has a right to request a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act. The Notice shall contain language that a handicap or disabled person has a right to request a reasonable accommodation and shall include the following language:
    1. It shall be unlawful for any person to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a handicapped or disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit, including public and common use areas.
    2. Example: A blind applicant for rental housing wants to live in a dwelling unit with a seeing eye dog. The building has a "no pets" policy. It is a violation of §100.204 of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Regulations and the Fair Housing Act for the owner or manager of the apartment complex to refuse to permit the applicant to live in the apartment with a seeing eye dog because, without the seeing eye dog, the blind person will not have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
  4. The owners and managers agree to tender $25,000.00 to Maria Delgado, Raquel Kooima and the Fair Housing Council in settlement of Plaintiffs' claims for damages, attorneys' fees, and costs.
  5. It is understood that this Consent Order and Settlement Agreement does not constitute an admission by the owners and managers of any violation of any fair housing laws.

The Fair Housing Council's executive director, Galen Martin, said "The settlement with the owners and managers of Hawthorne Place Apartment is an example to other landlords and owners that discrimination against tenants with disabilities will not be tolerated in our community. I want each landlord to know that if a blind person who uses a guide dog applies for housing, the landlord cannot refuse to rent to the person because she has a guide dog." Martin continued by saying, "If a manager says that a blind person can stay, but their dog must go, that manager has a problem. It's a very big federal problem which involves a lawsuit."

The Fair Housing Council Staff Attorney Kevin Kijewski, said, "We believe that the owners took the correct steps in settling this lawsuit. With the agreement by the owners to not discriminate in housing and their affirmative steps having their managers attend fair housing training, I am most optimistic that tenants like Maria Delgado will not be discriminated against in the future."

Martin said that the majority of the settlement money received in the case will go equally to the two individual tenants to compensate them for their emotional distress and humiliation encountered in this matter. Kijewski said, "It was a very heroic for both tenants to stand up for their rights and pursue this matter to its end. Not only were the initial acts very upsetting to them, but the litigation process was also very taxing on their emotions."

The Fair Housing Council is a non-profit corporation, supported by governmental grants, whose mission and purposes are to promote fair housing and end discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status (the presence of minor children in a home), and disability in Kentucky and southern Indiana. The Council publishes the National Fair Housing Advocate.

The Council encourages people who have experienced discrimination in housing based on disability, race, because they have children, religion, or for other reasons to contact the them at 1-800-558-3247.

Defendants' attorney is Kevin Mathews, Ricketts & Travis, 4055 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, Kentucky 40207, (502) 896-2302.