This case involved a dispute between a homeowners association (Association), and its management personnel, and the owners (Owner) of a property located within the common interest community that was governed by Association. The dispute stemmed from Associations refusal to allow Owner to bring an alleged service animal, a Chihuahua dog, into the communitys clubhouse on three difference occasions and the imposition of fines on Owner following occasions when the dog was taken into the community clubhouse by Owner. Following the imposition of fines and attorneys fees and costs on Owner in conjunction with the incidents, Association initiated foreclosure proceedings against Owners property, which then forced Owner into bankruptcy to prevent the loss of their home due to Associations foreclosure proceeding. As a result of these actions, Owner sued the defendants for discrimination against the disabled based on claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
The District Court found that Associations clubhouse was a private establishment and did not qualify as a place of public accommodation. Accordingly, the Court ruled that, because Associations clubhouse does not qualify as a place of public accommodation, the ADA did not apply and ruled in favor of the defendants on claims based on violations of the ADA.
With regard to Owners claims under the FHA, Owners alleged that Association engaged in unlawful discrimination by failing to make reasonable accommodations in its rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations were necessary to afford a handicapped person (Owner) equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. The Court stated the following five elements of a FHA reasonable accommodation claim: (1) that the plaintiff or his associate is handicapped within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. 3602 (h); (2) that the defendant knew or should reasonably be expected to know of the handicap; (3) that accommodation of the handicap may be necessary to afford the handicapped person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; (4) that the accommodation is reasonable; and (5) that defendant refused to make the requested accommodation.
The District Court found that the FHA applies to Association and the business entity defendants in the case and ruled that Associations clubhouse also qualified as a dwelling under the FHA, and that Owner required an accommodation to realize her expectation to use and enjoy Associations clubhouse.
The Court also found that Owners dog qualified as a service animal under the FHA and that allowing the dog into the clubhouse was a reasonable accommodation. Most importantly, the Court further ruled that a housing provider, such as Association, could seek to verify that a disability exists, and inquire as to the need for an accommodation such as a service animal, if neither the disability nor the need is readily apparent.
The District Court ruled that Owner was entitled to a judgment for damages against the defendants for violations of the FHA. Those damages included non-economic damages for pain and suffering, humiliation, and emotional distress due to be driven from the home, facing death threats and harassment from community members, being undermined publicly and privately by Associations Board and others, having to file bankruptcy and being unable to use and enjoy the clubhouse facilities for several years.
Based on said actions, the Court imposed compensatory damages joint and severally against several of the defendants in the amount of $350,000. Because the Court found that certain of the defendants acted with reckless indifference as to the rights of disabled individuals seeking reasonable accommodations, the Court also imposed punitive damages against certain of the defendants in the amount of $285,000 to punish unlawful conduct and to deter its repetition. Finally, the Court awarded Owners attorney fees and costs of litigation.
Nevada District Court decision (February 25, 2019).
See case decision: Sanzaro_v._Ardiente_Homeowners_Ass’n,_LLC_(D._Nev.,_2019)