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Brittany Lawonn, Published June 19 2009

Goldmark: Discrimination claims are baseless

Goldmark Property Management is denying allegations of discrimination in response to a federal lawsuit accusing the company of doing so in renting apartments to tenants with disabilities.

The company released details regarding its policy for animals in housing units Thursday – two days after Fair Housing of the Dakotas filed a lawsuit in Fargo’s U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit, claiming the Fargo-based company discriminated against two tenants with companion dogs, seeks to proceed as a class action that would represent disabled tenants or would-be tenants with similar grievances dating back to June 16, 2007, involving assistance animals.

Goldmark has different policies for animals in housing, depending on whether the animal is a pet, service animal or companion animal, according to Brad Williams, president of Goldmark.

Pets are allowed to live in buildings designated for pets if the renter pays a nonrefundable pet fee, giving them the right to move the pet into the building, and an additional monthly fee.

“We also charge a monthly pet rental fee, which is basically charging the pet for living in the apartment,” Williams said.

Service animals that are professionally trained to help someone with a physical condition, such as sight or hearing impairments, are allowed to live in both pet-friendly and non-pet-friendly buildings.

No deposit or pet rent is required for service animals, “because of the professional training that those animals receive,” Williams said.

Companion animals, such as animals a doctor prescribes for an individual, are allowed in non-pet-friendly buildings for a nonrefundable deposit and a monthly pet fee, which is lower than that charged to residents having pets, Williams said.

The fees are charged to pay for damage the animals will cause, Williams said, adding the professionally trained service animals usually cause less damage because of their training.

Amy Nelson, executive director of Fair Housing of the Dakotas based in Bismarck, said Goldmark’s policy does not change the lawsuit in any way.

“They can’t charge fees period if the animal is needed for a disability, whether that’s a physical disability or a mental disability,” Nelson said.

Goldmark intends to fight the lawsuit, Williams said.

“We take Fair Housing regulations very seriously,” he said. “We believe we go out of our way to be accommodating.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541