The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is charging Bloomington’s Burnham Rentals LLC, Burnham Place Apartments LLC, two of its employees and others, with violating the Fair Housing Act’s ban on disability discrimination. HUD’s charge alleges that the housing providers refused to permit a graduate student from Indiana University, who has depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, to keep an assistance animal in an apartment.

Additionally, HUD’s charge alleges that the housing providers used the building’s “no pets” policy as justification to deny the student’s request to live with her assistance animal, which therefore denied her access to the housing.

“Not allowing someone with mental health disabilities to keep an assistance animal robs them of their independence as well as the opportunity to fully enjoy their home,” said Jeanine Worden, HUD’s acting assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. “HUD remains committed to ensuring that the owners of rental housing meet their obligations under the nation’s fair housing laws.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from “denying or limiting housing to people with disabilities, or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when necessary to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling.” HUD says this includes refusing to rent to people with disabilities who have assistance animals that perform work or tasks, or that provide disability-related emotional support.

“Often people with mental health disabilities who request reasonable accommodations face discrimination because their disabilities are not visible. HUD works to ensure that the rights of individuals with ‘invisible’ disabilities are fully visible and enforced,” said Damon Smith, HUD’s principal deputy general counsel.

HUD’s charge claims that the graduate student used the assistance animal, a cat, to help her symptoms instead of medication that caused her side effects. According to the charge, the housing providers denied her request to keep the animal, resulting in the student being forced to rent another, more expensive, apartment farther from the university.

HUD’s charge will be heard by a U.S. Administrative Law Judge unless any party elects for the case to be heard in federal court.