Federal suit over emotional support dog in Nashua apartment ends with $35,000 settlement

Dec. 29—A Nashua woman will be paid $35,000 in damages after her landlord entered into an agreement to end a federal lawsuit, after the woman's request to move her emotional support dog into her apartment was denied.

But the U.S. Attorney said the case does not open the door for people to flout landlords' no-pets policies.

Though standards for emotional support animals are looser than for service animals trained to help people with specific tasks, there is still a line between an emotional support animal and a pet, said U.S. Attorney John J. Farley.

The U.S. Attorney's Office sued the property owner, the John J. Flatley Company, after the dog owner, Natasha Grant, brought a complaint under the federal Fair Housing Act to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the complaint, Grant had a note from her doctor saying her dog, a Saint Bernard named Molly, helped alleviate her anxiety and depression. Property managers for Flatley denied Grant's request to move Molly into the Nashua apartment she shared with her husband.

After Grant filed a complaint with HUD, the department investigated and determined Flatley likely had violated the Fair Housing Act. Grant elected to pursue the process through federal court, so the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a lawsuit on her behalf in April.

Flatley and the U.S. Attorney's Office entered into a consent decree on Tuesday, ending the lawsuit. Flatley does not acknowledge wrongdoing, but agreed to pay Grant $35,000, and will be required to train its property managers on the Fair Housing Act and discrimination against people with disabilities.

Farley, the U.S. Attorney, said the consent decree does not mean landlords' "no pets allowed" policies are not allowed.

"It is not simply a way to get a pet when you're not entitled to one," he said Tuesday.

Landlords can have "no-pet policies," or policies barring certain animals or particular dog breeds. But if a person has a documented medical need — as Grant did — the Fair Housing Act requires the landlord to make a "reasonable accommodation" that will allow people with disabilities equal access to housing.

Farley also noted the way emotional support animals are seen differently under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which deals with accommodations for disabled people in public places.

The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to allow emotional support animals in homes, Farley said. But the Americans with Disabilities Act only requires public places to allow service animals trained to perform a specific task, like guiding a blind person or opening doors for someone with limited mobility. Public places are not required to allow emotional support animals.

jgrove@unionleader.com