The Iowa Court of Appeals says the Sioux City Human Rights Commission may sue the owners of rental properties for housing discrimination for rejecting renters with disabilities who asked to keep companion animals in their home.
The court ruled that the city and commission have standing to sue for violations of the law under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. The city first sued owners James and Jennifer Boyle in March 2017, claiming they twice violated the law by denying reasonable accommodation of a disability.
Human Rights Commission Director Karen Mackey says this case came from a recorded call made by a testing firm they use to check that landlords are complying with the law. The landlord asked how many people would be living in the apartment.
“At which point the tester would respond it was just one person — but they had a companion animal for example. — but they also had certification from a medical provider for the need of the companion animal,” Mackey says.
The city seeks a court order to stop the practice, civil penalties and punitive damages. A district court judge had dismissed the lawsuit in March 2018, finding the commission was not an “aggrieved person” eligible to sue under Iowa law. The appeals court judges applied the federal discrimination law definition, which allows a local civil rights commission to directly litigate discrimination concerns.
Mackey says the Commission hopes to educate landlords on housing law, rather than punish them. “There would be a modest fine, education trying to make It is not a situation where we are trying to break the back of the landlord. They have spent far more trying to litigate this than they ever would have if they had settled with us,” Mackey says.
They Iowa Court of Appeals sent the case back to district court for trial.
(By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)