Service dog at center of N.J. dispute

Keith Loria Jun. 21, 2010, 3:22am


TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - A New Jersey apartment building owner and the real estate agency that lists his rental units have come under fire for allegedly discriminating against a couple who own a service dog.

New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow and the Division on Civil Rights announced on Monday issued a probable cause finding against landlord Ray Saoud, the owner of a nine-unit Secaucus apartment building on Maple Street, and Secaucus-based Peterson Real Estate.

Both are accused of not allowing prospective renters Khalill and Jackie Smart to live in the building with their medically-prescribed service dog.

A probable cause finding means that the state has investigated the matter and determined there is sufficient evidence to support the civil rights complaint that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination has been violated.

Jackie Smart, a breast cancer patient who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her illness and treatment, has an emotional support dog to help her. When she and her husband attempted to rent an apartment in December of last year, they allegedly were denied because of the animal.

After showing the couple the apartment, an agent of Peterson Real Estate allegedly told them that the landlord might not be willing to rent to them because of the dog. The Smarts did not hear from them again despite making numerous phone calls.

Khalill Smart, who is African-American, also alleged that race played a role in the denial, but the Division's investigation did not support this claim.

According to the investigation, Peterson Real Estate did acknowledge that, "this matter was never about racial discrimination, it was about a dog."

The agency claimed that it passed along the Smarts' documentation to the landlord, including information about the dog being medically allowed. Saoud denied ever receiving this documentation.

The case will now be referred for a process known as conciliation. If not successful, the matter will be referred to an administrative law judge for a hearing on the merits. The judge will then issue a written initial decision.

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