RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s Office of Civil Rights has helped bring justice to a Pulaski County couple who experienced threats of eviction because of their assistance animal. Attorney General Herring’s Office of Civil Rights has settled a lawsuit alleging four counts of housing discrimination against the owner and property managers of a Pulaski County townhome community, who threatened to evict tenants because they had an assistance animal living in their apartment with them. Attorney General Herring and his team argued on behalf of the Virginia Fair Housing Board in this case.
“Virginians with disabilities have the right to live with an assistance animal, especially if that assistance animal helps them live happier, more full lives – assistance animals are not pets and cannot be subject to fees or breed and weight restrictions like other pets can be,” said Attorney General Herring. “Assistance animals, like the Butler’s, are often the best way for individuals with debilitating symptoms caused by various mental or physical impairments to substantially improve their quality of life. I am proud of my newly created Office of Civil Rights for their hard work on this case and I hope this sends a message to other landlords that housing discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth.”
Before and after they moved into their apartment, the complainants Charlene and Michael Butler requested and provided clinical verification of the need to bring Charlene’s assistance dog to live with them in the Unique Deerfield Village Townhomes Complex (Deerfield). The on-site property managers repeatedly refused their reasonable accommodation request, instead imposing weight limits and pet deposit fees on the assistance animal. When the Butlers elevated their request, the owner of Deerfield, Jeffrey Stump, sent the Butlers a written denial that threatened eviction saying, “It has come to my attention that you have a pet residing in your unit. It makes no difference that is an emotional support dog. It is still a pet.” Stump made good on that threat and attempted to evict the Butlers. The Butlers prevailed in that court case and filed a complaint alleging housing discrimination with the Virginia Fair Housing Office.
After a thorough investigation by the Virginia Fair Housing Office, the Fair Housing Board found reasonable cause to believe that Stump and the property managers had illegally discriminated against the Butlers by:
- Refusing to grant a reasonable accommodation
- Refusing to rent based on disability
- Imposing discriminatory terms and conditions based on disability
- Intimidating, harassing, or coercing on account of having exercised fair housing rights
Attorneys from Attorney General Herring’s Office of Civil Rights promptly filed a complaint in Pulaski County Circuit Court. The parties were able to agree on a resolution without further litigation.
As part of the settlement, the landlord must adopt non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation policies, attend fair housing training annually for three years, and pay the Butler’s $30,000 as compensation. Moving forward, any time an applicant or tenant requests a reasonable accommodation at Deerfield, the landlord must provide them with the community policy that explains how to process the request.
“I am thankful to both the Attorney General’s office and HOME for all of their help in this matter. If you are being harassed by your landlord due to your disability, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc., please speak up!” said Charlene Butler. “Everyone has the right to live in a safe, comfortable environment. The Attorney General’s office will stand up for you against discrimination and legal aid in your area can help you with a tenant’s assertion.”
Residential housing providers may request and obtain reliable, credible disability verification in support of accommodation requests for assistance animals; however, they cannot require overly burdensome documentation. Guidance issued by the Fair Housing Board to address issues regarding the verification of reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals, particularly those that provide emotional support or other seemingly untrained assistance to people with disabilities, is available here
Virginians who believe they have experienced housing discrimination may file a complaint by contacting the Virginia Fair Housing Office at:
In January, Attorney General Herring announced the creation of the Office of Civil Rights
within the Office of the Attorney General to expand, enhance, and centralize his ongoing work to protect Virginians from discrimination and to secure and expand the rights of all Virginians. The new designation of the Office of Civil Rights is the culmination of a multiyear plan to expand the authority and resources dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Virginians, and to place the protection of civil rights at the center of the mission of the Office of Attorney General.