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U.S. court rules for Rochester woman who needs service dog

By Dawn Schuett

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

A settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit against a Rochester company accused of violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to rent a townhome to a woman in need of an assistance dog.

The suit was filed last year by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on behalf of Sarah and Jesse Wilder of Rochester and their minor daughter against Bouquet Builders Inc., which owns and operates Avalon Cove Town Homes, French Creek Town Homes and Crystal Bay Town Homes in Rochester.

The family planned to relocate to Rochester in 2005 after Sarah Wilder was hired for a nursing job.

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A psychologist treating Wilder for major depressive disorder and other medical conditions previously prescribed for her the use of an untrained assistance dog as therapy. Wilder is described as a person with a disability as defined by the U.S. Fair Housing Act.

According to the lawsuit, the family sought to rent a unit at Avalon Cove Townhomes. The Wilders met with owner Marcia Bouquet on May 14, 2005, and were told about a no-pet policy at the complex. The Wilders stated that Sarah had been prescribed an assistance animal and that it was a violation of the law to ban them from having the animal.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development later found that reasonable cause existed to believe that the Wilders were discriminated against.

In the settlement of the federal case, Bouquet Builders agreed to pay $54,534 to the family for emotional distress damages and $27,965 to the family’s attorney.

Other terms of the settlement require that the landlord company:

  • adopt and implement policies that are in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, including a written policy that permits a resident or prospective tenant with a disability to keep in his or her rental unit an untrained assistance animal that has been prescribed by a health professional;
  • pay for comprehensive and government-approved training of all employees on the disability provisions of the Fair Housing Act and state and local housing discrimination laws;
  • revamp its advertising for housing to include nondiscriminatory and fair housing statements;
  • maintain records of any complaint received by the landlord from prospective tenants and residents regarding housing discrimination and provide to the United States how such complaints were resolved by the landlord.

The government will monitor compliance by Bouquet Builders for three years.

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