By Guest Blogger Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Disability Blog, February 28, 2011
I am back with you today to talk about the recent settlement reached in United States of America v. Millikin University, an important case concerning university housing and a student with disabilities. In my previous Disability.Blog posts on May 3, 2010 and January 19, 2011, I discussed in some detail reasonable accommodations under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHAct). While I did not address university housing in those posts, the Millikin case makes clear that the fair housing protections of persons with disabilities do not end at the university gates.
The Millikin Case
The Millikin case involves a student with legal blindness and epilepsy who was accepted to Millikin University, a coed, independent four-year university in Decatur, Ill., for the fall semester of 2004. On her freshman housing application, the student requested a "quiet" dormitory, because noisy environments worsened her epileptic seizures. She also informed the housing supervisor that she planned on obtaining a specially-trained, seizure-alert dog that would live with her on campus, to which no objection was raised.
Despite her request, she was assigned a room in a noisy area and her seizures worsened. She asked for a transfer to a quieter room, and in the fall of 2005, Millikin transferred her to Oakland, a dormitory which met her disability-related needs, and her seizures lessened. In January 2006, the student informed the housing supervisor that her seizure-alert dog was ready to be delivered to her. Millikin officials responded that she could not live in Oakland with her service dog, because it would adversely affect other students, and offered her a room in another dorm. However, this room did not meet her disability-related needs.
Since Millikin refused to allow the dog to stay with the student in Oakland and did not provide an alternative room that met her needs, she remained at Oakland and her dog was transported back and forth daily from her parents’ home to campus. In February 2006, the student brought her dog to her dorm room and Millikin staff quickly forced her and the dog to leave and wait outside until her parents arrived to take the animal.
Thereafter, she commuted to classes for three weeks until a mediation was held in an attempt to resolve the matter. Still, Millikin officials refused to allow the student to live in Oakland with her service animal. The student then accepted Millikin’s offer of a room at Hessler Hall, so she could return to campus with her dog. But again, the room was unsuitable; it was adjacent to a recreation room in which loud, late-night Ping-Pong matches were frequently held. In addition, there were vending machines, located on the other side of her dorm room wall in the recreation room, which were frequently slammed and kicked. After two weeks of worsening seizures, she filed a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In September 2009, after a complex, three-year investigation, HUD charged Millikin University with violating the Fair Housing Act, on the grounds that Millikin made [a dwelling] unavailable, denied a student a dwelling because of her disability and refused to make a reasonable accommodation in its rules and practices when it was necessary to afford the student an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. The U.S. Department of Justice filed an action against Millikin in November 2009, and a settlement between the parties was recorded in federal district court on January 11, 2011.
Under the settlement, Millikin must state in all of its written or training materials for housing employees that it is unlawful to discriminate in the rental of housing to any student with a disability, unless the tenancy would pose a danger to the health or safety of others or result in substantial damage to property. The training materials must also state that it is unlawful to refuse reasonable accommodations when they may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. As part of the settlement, Millikin agreed to reimburse the student the $4,437 in expenses she incurred as a result of the move she made to Hessler Hall.
United States of America v. Millikin University highlights the principle that under the FHAct, university housing must be provided and administered to persons with disabilities in a non-discriminatory manner – in other words, fair housing does not stop where the campus begins.
HUD stands ready to enforce the fair housing rights of people with disabilities wherever such violations should occur. Please share this article with any students with disabilities who reside in, or plan to reside in, university housing, as well as their parents, friends and advocates.
To file a fair housing complaint, visit http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_discrimination.
Bryan Greene is the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In this position, he is charged with overseeing the policy direction and operational management of this 600-person office. Under his leadership, HUD has pursued large-scale high-profile cases that address systemic discrimination and provide widespread relief. Mr. Greene has devoted his professional career to fighting housing discrimination and promoting diverse, inclusive communities.