SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is backing a Utah woman's discrimination complaint against a Salt Lake landlord after she was denied use of a service animal under the apartment's "no pets" policy.
The charge, announced Tuesday by HUD, accuses of management and owners of the 48-unit Pine Cove Apartments of violating the Fair Housing Act in lieu of its no-tolerance policy for pets. The issue came to HUD's attention after the woman, whose name was not released, contacted the Disability Law Center about the issue.
According to the filing before HUD's office of administrative judges, the woman has an unspecified disability applicable under the Fair Housing Act, which leads to "functional limitations which substantially limit one or more major life activities."
Bard Holbrook, the principal of BJJ Enterprises, which owns Pine Cove Apartments and is named in the complaint, said Wednesday he believes the issue is a misunderstanding and that the woman never actually applied for housing after contacting the manager of the highly sought after apartment complex by phone.
Until his attorneys were contacted, Holbrook said no one even knew the woman's name.
"If someone wants to fill out an application and has a service animal, that's fine," he said.
Holbrook added, "As far as I'm concerned, we don't know who she is. She never filled out an application, and she never got in line for one of our units."
In April 2015, the woman contacted Amy Sloan, who has managed the apartments since 2005, about housing for herself and her husband, according to the filing. During that phone call, when the woman claims she explained she has a support animal prescribed by a doctor, Sloan informed her that pets are never allowed in the building because other tenants have allergies or don't like them, according to the filing.
Instead, Sloan referred the woman to another apartment complex, the complaint states.
After speaking with the woman, the Disability Law Center conducted three "test calls" — in June 2014, September 2014 and April 2015 — with the same results, according to the complaint.
In those calls, Sloan "consistently refused to grant reasonable accommodation requests made by testers and otherwise refused to deal with testers asserting their right to live with an assistance animal," the filing states.
Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are prohibited from denying or limiting housing to people with disabilities, or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations for those disabilities, a news release for HUD emphasized Wednesday.
"For nearly three decades, people with disabilities have had a right to request the reasonable accommodations they need to fully enjoy their homes, but that right is still being denied," Gustavo Velasquez, HUD's assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in the release. "HUD will continue to take actions that ensure that property owners and managers understand their rights and responsibilities under the law, and take steps to comply with those obligations."
The complaint will be presented to a U.S. administrative law judge, who could order damages paid or injunctive relief awarded for the woman, according to the release. Civil penalties are also possible.
Holbrook — who is not involved with day-to-day operations at the Pine Cove Apartments but would not provide contact information for the property's manager — said he was unsure how often the apartment complex receives requests from potential tenants with service animals or whether those requests have been granted to anyone who has completed the application process.
The apartment complex at 1243 Alameda Ave. near the University of Utah is always full and receives daily requests from prospective renters, Holbrook said.
In those calls, Sloan explains that the building is nonsmoking, does not allow pets, and that potential renters must provide proof of employment to show they can afford to live there, he said.
If the woman in the complaint never filled out an application but simply made a phone call, Holbrook said, she could not have been considered for an apartment unit.
"It's first come, first served, and that building is full all the time," he said.
Holbrook said he intends to continue disputing the complaint.
"I'm sorry it happened. I love animals. I have three golden retrievers myself," he said. "It's just sad that it's gotten to this. The whole thing, I think, is just a mix-up."