GV student files lawsuit against Meadows Crossing over therapy animal

GVL / Courtesy - Marissa Biesbrock

Marissa Biesbrock

GVL / Courtesy – Marissa Biesbrock

Drew Howard

Grand Valley State University student Marissa Biesbrock filed a lawsuit against Silveri Management Company after being denied multiple requests to bring her therapy dog, Izzy, to live with her at Meadows Crossing apartments.

Biesbrock and the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan (FHCWM) filed the lawsuit against Silveri Management on March 18 for discriminatory policies not allowing assistance animals.

Elizabeth Stoddard, director of advocacy at FHCWM, said such policies are not in line with the Fair Housing Act of 1968 or the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Acts. Both acts guarantee people with disabilities the right to reasonable accommodations in housing.

“The reasonable accommodation provisions of both laws must be considered in situations where persons with disabilities use (or seek to use) assistance animals in housing where the provider forbids residents from having pets or otherwise imposes restrictions or conditions relating to pets and other animals,” Stoddard said.

According to the official complaint, Biesbrock was diagnosed with depression and anxiety more than five years ago. Since she got Izzy, a 4-year-old miniature Chihuahua, symptoms of both have dramatically decreased.

“Without Izzy, Ms. Biesbrock suffers more acutely from her disability and is forced to leave her apartment on a frequent and regular basis to visit her dog for treatment,” the complaint reads. “Izzy’s presence therefore alleviates the effects of Ms. Biesbrock’s disability and would enable her to use and enjoy her apartment at Meadows Crossing as a non-disabled person would.”

Within the Meadows Crossing lease and website, it states tenants are not permitted to have “animals of any kind” in their apartment. It does not state in the lease that an exception could be made for persons with disabilities.

Stoddard said an assistance animal should be permitted as they are distinctly different from other animals.

“An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms of effects of a person’s disability,” Stoddard said. “Conditions and restrictions that housing providers apply to pets (breed restrictions, pet fees) may not be applied to assistance animals.”

Biesbrock’s lawyer, Steve Dane, said he’s confident his client will win the case.

“Fair housing law is very clear regarding accommodation requests involving emotional support animals,” Dane said.

Biesbrock and the FHCWM are asking the court to award compensatory damages to the plaintiffs in an amount that would fully compensate for emotional and physical distress, out-of-pocket costs, and diversion of resources, among other things.

Additionally, Biesbrock and the FHCWM are asking the court to enter a permanent injunction directing the defendants to take steps to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

According to the official complaint, this is not the first time Meadows Crossing has denied students from living with assistance animals. Within two months of Biesbrock contacting the FHWCM, the organization received two “nearly identical complaints” from Meadows Crossing tenants.

Izzy is currently residing in Biesbrock’s family home and has stayed there since the beginning of the academic year. Biesbrock’s lease at Meadows Crossing is scheduled to end in June 2016.