Apr. 12—A landlord accused of discriminating against a tenant by not allowing her to have an emotional support dog at a Nashua apartment complex is facing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Concord.
Massachusetts-based John J. Flatley Company and property manager Luke Page violated the Fair Housing Act, according to the complaint filed Friday by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Court records said that in 2016, Natasha Grant was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and acquired a St. Bernard assistance dog named "Molly" while living in Colorado with her parents. Grant continued to visit with Molly at her parents while attending nursing school in Colorado, court records show. In 2019 Grant married Farhad Pourkamali Anaraki, and the couple moved from Colorado to Nashua after Anaraki secured a job in Massachusetts.
Court documents show on May 15, 2019, Grant and Anaraki signed a one-year lease with Flatley on an apartment on Digital Drive in Nashua's Tara Heights.
According to court documents, the lease included a no-pet rider that said having a pet is grounds for eviction and the tenant will be fined $250 per month, per pet. Grant left Molly with her parents in Colorado because the lease prohibited dogs, and she and Anaraki were unable to find other housing within their means that allowed dogs.
From June to August 2019, court documents show, Grant was studying for the nursing boards to become a licensed nurse in New Hampshire.
"This was a stressful time for Ms. Grant to be apart from her family and dog Molly," the lawsuit states, saying Grant flew to her parents' home to spend time with her family and Molly in July 2019, and again that November and December, after securing a job in October at a hospital in Nashua.
"Ms. Grant's new job in a new state, all while living at the subject property without Molly, increased Ms. Grant's anxiety and depression symptoms," the lawsuit states. "Her medication alone was insufficient without Molly's help to alleviate the symptoms of her disability."
In late December 2019, in response to a request by Grant for permission to have an emotional support animal at the apartment, Flatley and Page indicated they would allow her to have an emotional support animal, but not a dog.
Grant said she was entitled to do so under the Fair Housing Act, court documents show. She attached a link to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") website pages, including the description of dogs as "the most common type of assistance animal."
Grant filed an administrative complaint to HUD, which determined there was reasonable cause to believe the Fair Housing Act had been violated. The complaint seeks declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief for the tenant.
"The Fair Housing Act serves to provide equal opportunity to individuals with disabilities by obligating landlords to provide tenants with reasonable accommodations," Acting U.S. Attorney John Farley said in a statement. "One commonly-needed accommodation for an individual with a disability is access to an assistance animal, such as a service animal or a support animal.."
"Many individuals with different types of disabilities rely on assistance animals to maintain their independence and fully enjoy the place they call home," HUD Acting Assistant Secretary Jeanine Worden said in a statement. "HUD applauds today's action and will continue working with the Justice Department to ensure that housing providers meet their obligation to comply with the reasonable accommodation requirements of the Fair Housing Act."
A request for comment from representatives of the Flatley Company was not returned Monday afternoon.