DOJ Reaches Settlement with Kent State Over Access of Emotional Support Animals in University Housing

by Scott Reid

Washington — The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Kent State University (KSU) reached a $145,000 settlement over claims of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

In 2014, DOJ initiated a lawsuit against KSU and four of its employees for disability discrimination due to KSU’s denial of a request to allow a student suffering from a psychological disability and her husband to keep an emotional support dog in their university-operated student apartment.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates accessibility requirements for various commercial or public establishments including universities, owners must reasonably accommodate by allowing trained service dogs but are not required to permit other animals or untrained comfort dogs. The FHA includes broader reasonable accommodation rules that include any kind of animal, whether trained or not, and including those merely providing comfort or therapy for the effects of the person’s disability.

Under the then-existing housing policy, KSU did not permit students to live with untrained assistance animals in university-owned student housing, and did not allow for pets other than fish. KSU’s policy, in line with the ADA, provided exceptions for service animal dogs, but prohibited all other animals (including comfort animals). The student and her husband requested permission for an emotional support animal as a housing accommodation following the recommendation of the University Health Services psychologist caring for her. KSU officials denied the request, which prompted the student and her husband to move out of their university housing.

As part of the settlement, KSU agreed to pay:

  • $100,000 to two former students denied reasonable accommodations to keep emotional support dogs in their university apartments
  • $30,000 to the fair housing organization that advocated on behalf of the students, and
  • $15,000 to the United States.

KSU also agreed to adopt a housing policy allowing students with psychological disabilities to keep therapeutic support animals within university housing, provided that allowing the comfort animals would not fundamentally alter the nature of the housing. 

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