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Philadelphia Apartment Complex Pays $20,000 for Refusing to Permit Assistance Animals for Residents with Disabilities

The Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania (“HECP”) has entered into a conciliation agreement resolving a federal housing discrimination complaint against Westminster Arch Apartments (“Westminster”) for violating the disability portion of the federal Fair Housing Act.

In October of 2021, HECP received an anonymous email stating that Westminster did not permit reasonable accommodations for assistance animals and requesting that HECP investigate the property for discrimination. In response, HECP conducted fair housing testing which confirmed the allegations reported by the anonymous complainant. Callers to the complex were told repeatedly that the building was pet free and that assistance animals would not be allowed, despite medical documentation regarding a disability-related need for the animal. HECP filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, known as the Fair Housing Act, makes it unlawful to discriminate in connection with any housing related transaction, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. Housing providers are obligated under this law to permit reasonable accommodations, or changes in policies or practices, when necessary for residents with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwellings.

“Housing providers need to understand that assistance animals, including emotional support animals, are not pets and provide many people with disabilities essential support in performing day to day activities. Denying a person with a disability the right to have an assistance animal when requested as a reasonable accommodation, charging extra fees for an assistance animal, or refusing to rent to a prospective tenant because he or she has an assistance animal are all actions that violate the Fair Housing Act.” said Rachel Wentworth, Executive Director of HECP.

Westminster admitted no wrongdoing, but signed an agreement that will result in the payment of $20,000 to cover a portion of the costs incurred to bring about the agreement and to provide future consumer education regarding the fair housing rights of persons with disabilities. Additionally, Westminster has agreed to participate in comprehensive fair housing training and to revise their policies to comply with the Fair Housing Act.

The Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania has worked since 1956 to eliminate housing discrimination through education, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws. HECP’s work serves a population of over 4.65 million in the seven-county Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley regions. As the nation’s oldest fair housing agency, HECP’s successes include eradicating discriminatory practices at over 50,000 units of housing. HECP’s investigations are funded in part by the Fair Housing Initiatives Program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HECP was represented in this matter by Abara Law Firm.

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