HUD Sues Landlord for Refusing Tenant's Request to Keep 'Emotional Support' Cat

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A landlord in Jamestown, N.Y., is being sued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for violating fair housing law. The landlord refused to make an exception to the “no cat” rule for tenants who say they need a cat for “emotional support.”


Ronit and Voyl “Tom” Mecham, owners of a two-unit rental property, said they would agree to allow the tenant to break her lease and move out early but that they would make no exception to their “no pet” policy.

The tenant went ahead and got a cat anyway in May 2022. In August, when the tenant wanted to move out, an inspection revealed her violation. The landlord did nothing but comment that the tenant should have revealed her mental issue before moving in and lived somewhere else if she wanted a cat.

That should have been the end of it. But that’s when HUD stepped in.

The HUD complaint says the tenant suffered emotional and physical distress as a result of the Mecham’s “discriminatory conduct”—but doesn’t list any other penalty they suffered.

For HUD, that’s nevertheless enough to qualify as illegal disability discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

“Assistance animals provide people with disabilities the support they need to enjoy the benefits of their housing,” said Demetria L. McCain, HUD’s principal assistant deputy secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, in a press release. “HUD is committed to zealously enforcing the Act to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.”


“Zealously enforcing”? How about “fanatically enforcing”? The landlord would have been well within his rights to withhold any security deposit as well as bill the tenant for any damage caused by the cat. But HUD wasn’t through sticking it to the landlords.

HUD’s complaint demands that the Mechams take proactive steps to “remedy the effects of [their] illegal, discriminatory conduct.” It also seeks monetary damages to compensate the tenant for the damage they suffered for not getting permission to keep an emotional support cat in their house.

Those monetary damages could be substantial.

In 2021, a New Hampshire landlord agreed to pay $35,000 to settle a fair housing lawsuit brought by the feds over their failure to make an emotional support animal exception to the “no pets” policy at their property.

This is nuts. I know it’s hard to find housing that accepts pets. I’ve been kept by cats for almost 50 years, and I always had a hard time finding a place to live that accepted them.

Cats will not just tear up furniture. Kitties will ruin hardwood floors, oak paneling, and, of course, every door frame in the house or apartment.

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So landlords have a perfect right to protect their investment and deny tenants the opportunity to keep pets — even if they’re “emotional support” animals. Now the government is dictating how or if landlords can protect their property from the depredations of cats.

In 2019, the Meeker Housing Authority, which operates low-income housing in Meeker, Colorado, was forced to pay $1 million after losing a discrimination lawsuit that challenged its policy of charging a pet fee to people looking to keep emotional support animals.

It’s patently unfair to force a landlord to adopt a policy where they are expected to pick up the tab for the damage done by someone’s “emotional support” animal. If they need a pet that badly, might I suggest they check themselves into an institution? I’m sure the mental health facility would be happy to care for and feed the cat that helps the patient stay sane.


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