Association says ‘no cats allowed;’ HUD says that’s discrimination

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Federal authorities have charged an Oceanside RV park with violating the Fair Housing Act by denying access to a cat as a service animal to a woman with mental disabilities.

San Luis Rey Homes, a senior RV community on Academy Road north of State Route 76, has used discriminatory housing practices in enforcing its pet ban policy, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The HUD indictment is subject to a US administrative judge hearing unless a party chooses to take the case to federal court. The judge can award damages and other legal remedies to the unidentified complainant and impose civil sanctions.

A date for the hearing has not been announced. If the case goes to federal court, the judge could also award punitive damages.

A community council member, Margaret Bradnum, declined to discuss the case when he was reached by phone on Monday.

“It’s an ongoing case,” said Bradnum. “Nobody on the board should discuss it.”

The 328 prefabricated residential complex has a strict no-pet policy, according to a copy of the complaint provided by HUD. However, a few years ago, as stipulated by federal law, the apartment owners’ association created an exception for people who use assistance animals because of a disability, according to the complaint.

The plaintiff bought her house in December 2017 and moved in without her cat, which she and her sister left behind. Shortly after moving in, she saw a notice near the office that said residents could ask for permission to keep an assistance animal.

She submitted her application along with a medical certificate diagnosing her with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, anxiety disorder, and panic attacks. Her application was approved, so she picked up her cat and brought it to San Luis Rey, the complaint said.

Then the homeowners association apparently changed the rules.

The association informed local residents in 2018 that under the new rules, the community would require increased documentation for service animals and that only dogs certified by the San Diego County Humane Society would be allowed as service animals.

The cat’s owner was told that she was not following the rules. She renewed her request for a service animal, but the association’s response was that only dogs were allowed and she would be fined $ 200 per month for violating the policy.

“Nobody who is dependent on a service animal should be refused accommodation with their animal,” said Sasha Samberg-Champion, deputy chief attorney of the HUD for employment and fair housing.

Any animal that is usually kept as a pet can be considered a service animal, according to a message from the HUD office for fair living and equal opportunities on January 28, 2020.

“A dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, other rodent, fish, turtle, or other small domesticated animal traditionally kept in the household for pleasure rather than commercial purposes” can meet a person’s disabled needs, the communication states.