50K Awarded to Colorado Couple After HOA Refused to Allow Their Emotional Support Animal
This week a court-ordered The Creekside Condominium Homeowner’s Association of Snowmass Village to pay $50,000 to a homeowner after the HOA failed to allow a her emotional support dog, a violation of the Fair Housing Act, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday.
This past Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Domenico for the District of Colorado, ordered 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.
In addition to 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 service dogs and emotional support dogs,” 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.
Court documents show that 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 for her emotional support dog. The couple followed Federal Law and provided the HOA board a letter from a licensed psychologist requesting accommodation for the emotional support dog to assist her with depression and anxiety.
The Creekside HOA board rejected the initial letter submitted in December 2016 a violation of Federal Law, 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 but were unable to get approval from the board. Over the course of the year they 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.
After Nielson hire an attorney in 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.
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.