Larkspur, CA complex agrees to pay $100,000 for refusing to accommodate disabled woman

The owners and managers of Skylark Apartments, a Larkspur, California apartment complex, agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a claim that resident managers discriminated against a tenant with a mental disability.

Joseph and Eda Pell, the owners of the 454-unit apartment complex; Julia Ellis, the complex's on-site manager; and Cindy Gray, Skylark's property manager, signed the settlement in late June after a federal lawsuit was filed by Joanne Karlsrud and Fair Housing of Marin, a private fair housing group in San Rafael, California.

Karlsrud filed suit after the complex managers told her that she could not keep her service dog at the complex. Although Skylark Apartments had a "no pets" policy, the service dog was instrumental in treating Karlsrud's disability. Her doctor wrote a letter to the owners and managers of Skylark Apartments, explaining the need for a companion dog to help control her mental disability. Although the need for the dog was documented, the managers at Skylark told Karlsrud that she needed to remove the dog or leave her apartment.

Karlsrud contacted Fair Housing of Marin, claiming that the apartment managers had discriminated against her on the basis of her disability. Fair Housing of Marin advised Karlsrud of the reasonable accomodation clause of the Fair Housing Act and recommended that she ask the managers to accommodate her disability. The management staff refused Karlsrud's second request.

Nancy Kenyon, Executive Director of Fair Housing of Marin, attempted to mediate the complaint without a lawsuit. She explained to the owners and managers of Skylark Apartments that it was a violation of the Fair Housing Act to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation to a rule or policy for a person with a disability. Skylark Apartments again refused to allow Karlsrud to keep her service dog.

Kenyon referred Karlsrud to Bennie Howard, an Equal Opportunity Specialist with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Howard's attempts at mediation were ignored and Skylark managers refused to allow Karlsrud to keep her dog.

The managers of Skylark Apartments served Karlsrud with an eviction notice when she did not get rid of her dog. The notice said she had 30 days to vacate the apartment because she violated the "no pets" policy.

On the same day she received her eviction notice, Karlsrud, on advice from Fair Housing of Marin, filed an administrative complaint with HUD. She alleged that the owners and managers of the apartment complex had refused to reasonably accommodate her disability as required by the federal Fair Housing Act. HUD launched an investigation into the complex's actions. The evidence compiled in the investigation was later used by Chris Brancart, a private attorney who agreed to represent Karlsrud in the federal lawsuit she filed.

Brancart later said, "Persons with disabilities are not simply entitled to equal treatment. Congress has singled them out from other classes of persons protected under the Fair Housing Act for special treatment in the form of reasonable accommodation."

In addition to the $100,000 monetary settlement, the consent order signed by the defendants requires Skylark's owners and managers to attend fair housing training courses provided by Fair Housing of Marin.