The Creekside Condominium Homeowner’s Association was ordered this week to pay $50,000 to a Snowmass Village couple after the HOA failed to allow a woman to stay at the complex with her emotional support dog, a violation of the Fair Housing Act, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Domenico for the District of Colorado approved a consent order that resolved the years-long dispute between the Creekside HOA and both Jason Neilson, a longtime Creekside owner, and his domestic partner Kirsten Swick over whether Swick’s emotional support dog met the HOA’s criteria for reasonable accommodation to its “no dogs” policy.
On top of paying the $50,000 in compensation to Neilson and Swick, the three-year consent order requires the Creekside HOA board to undergo annual Fair Housing Act training and adopt a new reasonable accommodation policy and guidelines, along with an animal assistance policy.
“Housing providers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities,” U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn for the District of Colorado said in a news release sent Thursday. “We are pleased that this HOA is adopting policies and will conduct training that complies with the Fair Housing Act. These are important protections to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal housing opportunities.”
The Creekside HOA board had no comment Thursday as board protocol requires it meet as a whole before issuing any statement, according to a board member. Neilson and Swick could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law adopted in 1968 to protect Americans from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, or engaging in other housing-related activities, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to court documents, the Creekside HOA board’s violation of the Fair Housing Act started in December 2016 when Neilson and Swick made a request for Swick to be granted reasonable accommodation after getting an emotional support dog. The couple submitted a letter to the HOA board from a licensed psychologist with the request that supported the need for Swick, who experiences depression and anxiety, to have an emotional support dog as part of her treatment.
Over one year prior, the Creekside HOA board adopted a resolution to its “no dogs” policy that allowed tenants who have a disability and may need a support animal to request reasonable accommodation. The resolution allowed the HOA board to require the tenant to provide “reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for a service animal” in order to receive approval, court documents state.
In Neilson and Swick’s case, the Creekside HOA board rejected the initial letter submitted in December 2016, stating it did not “meet legitimate requirements,” court documents say. The HOA board requested verification of Swick’s disability and need for an emotional support animal.
From January 2017 to June 2017, Swick and Neilson continued to apply for reasonable accommodation with Creekside HOA and stayed at five different residences with friends and relatives and spent more than a week living out of their van so Swick could keep her emotional support dog and avoid being fined, the complaint says.
Swick and Neilson submitted additional documentation attributed to two separate medical providers over the five months. The documents described Swick’s depression and anxiety, treatment, and how an emotional support dog could benefit her.
The HOA board rejected the additional documents, stating they were too vague or insufficient, according to the federal district court complaint. They informed the couple they had to pay $3,650 in fines or else a lien would be placed on Neilson’s unit.
However, on June 14, 2017, the Creekside HOA board reversed course and granted Neilson and Swick’s request for accommodation after the couple’s attorney informed the HOA board they were preparing to sue in federal district court.
Regardless, Neilson and Swick filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division at the end of June 2017.
Two months later, the Creekside HOA board requested $500 from each condo owner “to cover legal costs and potential liability arising from the Board’s enforcement of the Association’s ‘No Dog’ rule,” court documents state.
The couple also filed a housing discrimination complaint in November 2017 with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD officials conducted an investigation of the complaint and determined in September that “reasonable cause existed to believe that illegal discriminatory housing practices had occurred,” court documents say.
HUD’s “Charge of Discrimination,” resulted in a civil action complaint filed in U.S. District Court and the consent order between the court and Creekside HOA was approved Tuesday.
The Creekside HOA has 10 days from the approval date to pay $50,000 in compensation to Nielson and Swick; 15 days to distribute its new reasonable accommodation and assistance animal policies to Creekside tenants; and 30 days to notify all homeowners of the lawsuit and to issue an apology to Neilson and Swick via email.
Betsy Crum, director of the housing department in Snowmass, said Thursday she was unaware of the issue at Creekside Condominiums and said the Creekside HOA was in charge of rules and regulations for the complex’s deed-restricted owners.
Crum did say the town housing department is committed to following fair housing laws and federal regulations, and that reasonable accommodations have been made for people with support animals who rent and own town housing in Snowmass. She also said any HOA in Snowmass with questions regarding the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance should reach out to the Snowmass Housing Department.
This story is from The Aspen Times. [email protected]