Government, Kent State Reach Settlement in Therapeutic Support Animals in Student Housing Case

JusticeWashington, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Justice and Kent State University have reached a $145,000 settlement over claims of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. As part of the settlement, Kent State agreed to pay $100,000 to two former students denied to keep emotional support dogs in their university apartments; $30,000 to the fair housing organization that advocated on behalf of them; and $15,000 to the United States.

The university also agreed to adopt a housing policy allowing students with psychological disabilities to keep therapeutic support animals in university housing. The settlement agreement is currently awaiting court approval.

In 2014, DOJ initiated a lawsuit against the university and four of its employees, asserting disability discrimination for denying a student—who was suffering from a psychological disability—and her husband permission to keep an emotional support dog in their university-operated student apartment.

The plaintiffs in the case filed a fair housing discrimination complaint with HUD, along with the Fair Housing Advocates Association in Akron, Ohio, in 2010. The case was then referred to DOJ.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, housing owners must reasonably accommodate trained service dogs, but aren’t required to permit other animals or untrained comfort dogs. The FHA, on the other hand, includes broader reasonable accommodation rules that include any kind of animal, whether trained or not, including those providing comfort or therapy.

Previously, Kent State didn’t allow students to live with untrained assistance animals in university-owned student housing, and in fact didn’t allow for any pets other than fish. University’s policy, in line with the ADA, did provide exceptions for service dogs.

The student and her husband requested permission for an emotional support animal, following the recommendation of the University Health Services psychologist caring for her. University officials denied the request, which prompted the student and her husband to move out of their university-operated housing.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled in the case that the definition of “dwelling” included student housing, which meant the FHA applied for purposes of determining whether to allow a comfort animal. The court found that the school’s policy was too narrow and needed to be expanded to include the broader definition of assistance animals under the FHA.

“Providers of on-campus housing have the same obligation to comply with the Fair Housing Act as other housing providers,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The “settlement reinforces the ongoing commitment of HUD and the Justice Department to ensuring that individuals with disabilities are granted the accommodations they need to perform daily life functions.”