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HUD charge: St. Cloud landlord said 'no pets' to blind woman with service dog

  • Article by: Paul Walsh
  • Star Tribune
  • September 27, 2013 - 11:18 PM

A landlord is accused of refusing to rent an apartment in St. Cloud to a disabled woman because her service dog violated his “no pets” policy, federal housing authorities allege in a discrimination complaint.

Kurt Schimnich, 50, of Sauk Rapids, Minn., was accused of violating the Fair Housing Act, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Friday.

The act requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities.

“Support animals can be essential to persons with physical, mental or emotional disabilities,” Bryan Greene, acting assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement. “Housing providers must make exceptions to ‘no-pets’ policies if a person with a disability requires an animal to fulfill a major life activity.”

The prospective tenant, LaDonna Smith, is legally blind and has psychiatric disorders, among them depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Smith also uses a walker because of back problems. She started using service animals 11 years ago, the agency said.

In an interview Friday, Smith, 49, said that when the landlord rejected her, she recalled “getting very upset with him, and I had gotten depressed at the same time.”

Reached by phone Friday, Schimnich said, “I don’t really care to talk about it at this point.”

According to HUD and Smith, on April 2, 2012, Smith called Schimnich about renting one of three units in the building at 501 8th St. N. He said the available unit was on the main floor and was renting for $495 plus utilities.

Smith was driven from her home in Paynesville to the St. Cloud property the next day. Schimnich saw Smith’s service dog, a 19-pound Jack Russell terrier named Lexi, and told her “no pets.” She told Schimnich that Lexi was a support animal, but he repeatedly said “no pets.”

Smith tried to show him Lexi’s certification, but he allegedly would not look at it and said he didn’t care. Smith then informed Schimnich that she would be reporting him to authorities.

HUD’s allegations will be heard by an administrative law judge unless either side wishes to have the case moved to federal court.

Smith and Lexi found a home later in Sauk Rapids, “where [the landlords] had no problem that I had her. And they don’t normally allow dogs.”

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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