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Goldmark accused of discrimination against disabled tenants

Goldmark Property Management faces allegations of a "pattern of discrimination" in renting apartments to tenants with disabilities, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Fargo's U.S. District Court.

Fair Housing of the Dakotas, based in Bismarck, filed the lawsuit, contending the Fargo-based company discriminated against two tenants with companion dogs.

The lawsuit 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.

Brad Williams, president of Goldmark Property Management, said he has not seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment on the allegations.

"I'm at a loss," he said. "I'd be happy to comment on the specifics once I know what the specifics are."

In both instances of alleged discrimination, Goldmark is accused of charging extra fees and higher monthly rents for companion dogs. Those practices, the lawsuit contends, violate the U.S. Fair Housing Act and North Dakota law.

One example involves Stephanie Hasse, a Fargo woman who suffers from disabling mental impairments, with a small assistance dog named Toby obtained after consulting with her doctor.

The dog, a "Pekapom" mixing Pekingese and Pomeranian breeds, weighs less than 8 pounds and helps to alleviate Hasse's anxiety and loneliness, according to the suit.

Hasse moved into the Summit Point Apartments, at 1724 Gold Drive in Fargo, in January.

Goldmark charged Hasse a nonrefundable assistance animal fee of $200 and $20 in extra monthly rent, which Hasse's sister reported to Fair Housing of the Dakotas.

Similarly, Betty Martin, who is disabled from severe arthritis, sought to get a companion dog intended to help relieve pain and stiffness in her joints by daily dog walking.

Martin intended to find a small dog, such as a Maltese or terrier. Goldmark representatives told her they would charge a non-refundable deposit of $200 as well as additional monthly rent of $20, and a $35 verification fee.

After researching companion animals and fair housing laws, she contacted Fair Housing of the Dakotas, whose advocates earlier had received similar complaints.

As a result of the complaints, Fair Housing of the Dakotas sent testers to Goldmark-managed apartments in Bismarck and Fargo to inquire about practices involving companion animals.

Those tests "confirmed that Goldmark committed discriminatory housing practices," the lawsuit said. It says the plaintiffs are entitled to compensatory damages for loss of housing opportunities, emotional distress, and mental anguish for violations of their civil rights.