City files housing discrimination lawsuit on behalf of veteran with therapy dog

A lawsuit against a local rental management company alleges a veteran with an emotional support animal was discriminated against when trying to rent a Lawrence townhome.

The lawsuit, filed by the City of Lawrence Human Relations Commission, claims that KanMar Management LLC violated fair housing laws by refusing to rent to the potential tenant based on his disability and use of a service dog.

“Certainly landlords need to follow the law, and the accommodation requested here was so extremely minor it’s amazing that the landlord really objected, but it is what it is,” said attorney David Brown, who is representing the city in the case.

The potential tenant, Christopher Evans, is a United States military veteran who has a disability that “requires the use of an emotional support dog,” a German Shepard and Great Dane mix, according to the lawsuit. Evans filled out an application to rent a unit at Ashbury Townhomes, 925 E. 14th St., and supplied a letter from his therapist regarding the dog, but was denied based on the pet policy of the townhomes, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 8 in Douglas County District Court, claims that the landlords failed to make “reasonable accommodations” for Evans’ disability as required by local ordinance and state and federal fair housing law.

“The city is working to prevent discrimination in housing in the city for folks who do suffer disabilities,” Brown said. “And in this case, conciliation efforts with the landlord failed, and so they’re going forward and they’re enforcing the law as and when it’s needed.”

Evans has since rented other housing in Lawrence, which the lawsuit states is more costly and less convenient to his child’s school.

As a result of the rejection of his rental application, the lawsuit is seeking damages of more than $75,000, as well as reimbursement of court costs and attorney fees. The figure includes actual monetary damages for Evans, as well as damages for “pain, suffering and humiliation.” The lawsuit states that Evans “has suffered and continues to suffer emotional distress, pain and humiliation over this incident.”

Lyndon and Kathi Mullis, of Baldwin City, own and operate the townhomes and KanMar Management, and the lawsuit alleges that Lyndon Mullis has previously rented an apartment to a tenant with a service animal. The Mullises told the Journal-World they have no comment on the matter at this time.

The city’s Human Relations Commission investigates discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing. The nine-member commission has the ability to investigate, rule upon and resolve complaints. Brown said the commission typically resolves claims without litigation, and it has been several years since the city has had to file such a lawsuit.

“The city hasn’t brought a lawsuit of this nature in many years,” Brown said. “And it’s because, although they get lots of complaints, they work them out in the administrative process.”

The lawsuit states that conciliation efforts to resolve Evans’ dispute with KanMar Management were attempted but failed, and Brown said he could not provide further details as to why the commission was not able to resolve the dispute. The lawsuit only states that the defendants and their attorney elected a civil action in lieu of a public hearing.

A court hearing for the lawsuit is yet to be scheduled.