HUD investigation finds probable cause for discrimination by Granby realty firm 

  • Bernashe Realty at 24 W. State St., Granby. GOOGLE MAPS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2018 12:07:18 AM

GRANBY — A federal agency has determined that there is probable cause that Bernashe Realty’s refusal to allow assistance animals for people with disabilities violated the law.

On Aug. 8, the Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted an investigation into the realty’s practices revealing a pattern of ignoring or denying requests for assistance animals in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Attempts Wednesday to reach the realtors, Diane Bernashe-Lecca and James Lecca, were unsuccessful.

In HUD’s determination of probable cause document, the agency states that Bernashe-Lecca and Lecca deny ever posting advertisements prohibiting service animals nor had they ever received requests for accommodation from prospective tenants with assistance animals.

“A landlord must allow a qualified person with a disability reasonable accommodation to a ‘no pets’ rule,” said Meris Bergquist, executive director of Massachusetts Fair Housing Center of Holyoke. “The classic example is of someone who is blind and needs a guide dog. A landlord cannot decide not to rent to them and hide behind a ‘no pet’ policy.”

The MFHC is a housing service that investigates complaints of housing discrimination, and they were drawn to Bernashe Realty when advertisements stating that no pets were allowed began springing up on Craigslist in the spring of last year.

They conducted two rounds of testing to determine whether Bernashe Realty discriminated against people with disabilities who need to live with their assistance animals due to a condition. Their method, paired testing, is an established method for uncovering discrimination, according to Bergquist.

Two individuals with matching qualifications were sent to apply for the same housing opportunity at Bernashe, the key difference being that one applicant had a disability, Bergquist said.

Their investigation found that for each of the two rounds, the Bernashe agent stopped communicating with the individual that disclosed their need for an assistance animal due to their disability, yet continued to communicate and schedule showings for the individual without a disability. Bergquist said the paired testing took place in April 2017 and January 2018.

MFHC took the results of their investigation and filed a complaint with HUD, which then conducted its own investigation where the agency found probable cause for discrimination against persons with disabilities. On Aug. 8, Bernashe Realty was sent a certificate of service notifying them of the probable cause and a charge of discrimination.

“Unfortunately, it’s very common in this area,” Bergquist said. “Landlords have this misconception of the issue, and they think it’s optional, but it’s been the law for 30 years that people with disabilities have the right to live with an assistance animal due to their disability.”

Bernashe Realty manages a 31-unit apartment complex as well as a 15-unit complex in Granby.

MFHC’s investigation found that the realty company’s policy and practice of refusing rent to someone with a service animal to be so extreme that it would improperly exclude a blind individual that needs a guide dog from renting an apartment, according to Bergquist.    

MFHC has 20 days from the HUD’s reasonable cause determination to decide how to proceed.

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