HUD charges KSU with housing discrimination over support animal

Emily Mills

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Tuesday it has charged Kent State and four university employees with housing discrimination for refusing to allow a student with disabilities to keep an emotional support animal in her campus apartment.

The four university employees named in the lawsuit include Jill Church, director of Residence Services and former associate director of residential communities at the time of the incident; Brian Hellwig, assistant director of Residence Services and manager of Allerton Apartments, and former assistant director of residential safety and security; Amy Quillin, director of Student Accessibility Services and former director of Student Accessibility Services; and Elizabeth “Betsy” Joseph, former director of Residence Services.

Church, Hellwig, Quillin and Joseph are not allowed to talk to the media at this time, according to university spokesman Eric Mansfield.

The student, whose name was redacted in the HUD complaint, and her husband, along with Fair Housing Advocates Association Inc., an advocacy organization against housing discrimination based in Akron, filed the complaint against the university. The couple, who began attending Kent State in February 2008, lived in Allerton Apartments, a university-owned apartment complex for upperclassmen and their families that does not allow pets, where they remained from November 2008 to February 2010.

The Fair Housing Act, adopted in 1968 and amended in 1988, makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable housing accommodations because of a resident’s disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex or familial status, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website.

According to Kent State University’s Student Accessibility Services handbook, “Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.”

The student started treatment for anxiety and panic attacks in late October 2009. A university psychologist documented the student’s disabilities, which included panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, according to the charge of discrimination. The psychologist, identified by the Fair Housing Advocates Association as Kirsten DeLambo, determined the best way for her to cope with her disabilities was an emotional support animal.

DeLambo said she was unable to discuss the case at this time.

The student obtained a dog and submitted a reasonable accommodation request to the university in December 2009 asking for a waiver to the apartment complex’s “no pets” rule.

The university denied her request to keep her support animal. She and her husband remained in the apartment with their dog until February 2010, when they were released from their rental contract and moved to an apartment not owned by the university. Soon after, they contacted the FHAA.

The couple and FHAA filed a complaint with HUD on Feb. 19, 2010.

The student did not respond to requests for comment.

Elena Gaona, a public affairs specialist for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the student and FHAA contacted the department a few years ago, but the charge was only recently announced because of a long formal complaint process.

“The case has to be investigated,” she said. “There were a lot of talks, a lot of back and forth and a lot of investigation.”

Contact Emily Mills at [email protected].