HUD charges St. Paul apartment operators with disability discrimination

Federal officials have charged the management and owners of a St. Paul apartment complex with discriminating against a person due to her disability.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Larpenteur Estates Apartments and Major Management with violating the Fair Housing Act. The property manager and registered manager of Larpenteur Estates are also named as defendants in the case.

According to the complaint, a woman emailed Larpenteur Estates’ Property Manager Jennifer Costello on June 13, 2021, to inquire about renting a unit. When the woman followed up with Costello the next day and said she has an emotional support animal, Costello allegedly replied that Larpenteur Estates is “an animal-free/pet-free community” and pointed her to other properties to check out.

When the woman asked Costello if Larpenteur Estates was animal-free certified, saying she’d never heard of an emotional support animal being disallowed, the complaint states the property manager didn’t respond, so the woman then reached out to the registered manager of Larpenteur Estates, Mark Frisch, who is also the vice president of Major Management and had final decision-making authority.

Two days later, the woman went to the leasing office, where Costello told her the application was “on hold” due to special circumstances, the complaint states. The woman also missed a call from Frisch but attempts to reach him again were unsuccessful until he called back on June 25.

In that conversation, Frisch allegedly told the woman that other residents at Larpenteur Estates don’t want to live around animals so her emotional support animal wouldn’t be allowed. However, the complaint continues, stating that Frisch then said he would allow a service animal and then urged her to not involve HUD when she referenced the Fair Housing Act.

HUD says the actions caused the woman and her husband physical and emotional distress, inconvenience, frustration and loss of a housing opportunity.

HUD’s filing not only seeks relief for the woman but also charges a civil penalty of $21,663 against each of the defendants for each violation.

“Assistance animals provide people with disabilities the support they need to live comfortably in their home,” Demetria L. McCain, HUD’s principal assistant deputy secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said. “Today’s action demonstrates HUD’s ongoing commitment to take appropriate action when housing providers fail to comply with the Fair Housing Act.”

“The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to provide accommodations that are reasonable and necessary, and that includes permitting the use of assistance animals,” HUD General Counsel Damon Smith added. “HUD is committed to vigorously enforcing the Act to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to Larpenteur Estates and Major Management on Tuesday morning but has not yet heard back.

HUD urged anyone who believes they are a victim of housing discrimination to call 800-669-9777, 800-927-9275, or the Department of Justice at 800-896-7743 or 202-514-4713.