HUD sues senior complex over service pets policy

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Monday it had charged Sunrise Villas, a Lindenhurst senior complex, with discrimination, saying its limited pets policy discriminates against some disabled people who need service animals.

The charges came after Long Island Housing Services, which promotes fair housing under a HUD initiative, investigated a complaint about bathroom grab bars at the complex. The Bohemia group sent out testers, who discovered the pets policy restricts which disabled residents can have service animals.

The Long Island Housing Services tests were conducted in 2007 and 2008. They revealed that the complex on Leonard Court, where residents 55 and older live, allowed service animals for certain residents such as the visually impaired, said Michelle Sanantonio, the housing group's executive director. However, it denied accommodations to others, including quadriplegics and people with emotional problems.

Sunrise Villas officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

The Fair Housing Act states that it is illegal to deny "reasonable" accommodations to the disabled.

"The law doesn't only require equal treatment," Sanantonio said. "The law requires more than that, as they must provide accommodations for the disabled."

Sanantonio said a resident at the complex who needed grab bars installed in his unit prompted the tests. The resident, the director said, believed the walls were not stable enough to support the bars, so he called the housing group. No charges were filed in that case, but it led the organization to send testers out to investigate whether the complex was in compliance on other matters. That's when the limited pets policy was discovered.

Long Island Housing Services hopes this case will make disabled housing residents more aware of their rights.

"We wanted to educate people about their housing rights," Sanantonio said. "We also want to teach people what the law requires for fair housing."

Adam Glantz, a HUD spokesman, said the agency's goal is to change the policy at the complex. "We're not asking them to remove the . . . pets policy," he said Monday. "We just want revisions and the consideration that service animals are not pets."

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A U.S. administrative law judge will hear the case unless the parties reach a settlement or decide to have the case heard in federal court, HUD said. If an administrative law judge finds discrimination, he could award damages to complainants.

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