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Meadowland Apartments, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Heidi Schumacher

April 25, 2012



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Severson, Justice


[¶1.] Heidi Schumacher signed a renewed lease with Meadowland Apartments (Meadowland). Meadowland later filed an eviction action against Schumacher, alleging that she was in material non-compliance with the lease. Schumacher moved for a continuance of the court trial, which the magistrate court denied. At the conclusion of the court trial, the magistrate court found that Schumacher was a disabled person under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), but that Meadowland had made reasonable accommodations for her disability. The magistrate court also found that Schumacher's conduct constituted sufficient grounds for termination of the lease. Schumacher appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed the decision of the magistrate court. Schumacher now appeals to this Court, raising the following issues: (1) whether the magistrate court abused its discretion in denying Schumacher's motion for a continuance; (2) whether the magistrate court erred in considering evidence of incidents that occurred prior to the term of Schumacher's most recent lease with Meadowland; and (3) whether the magistrate court erred in finding that Meadowland provided reasonable accommodations for Schumacher's disability as required under the FHAA. We affirm.


[¶2.] Meadowland is a 120-unit apartment complex in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Schumacher moved into Meadowland in 1999. Schumacher's apartment was part of a federally subsidized project that was subject to the rules and regulations of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It is undisputed that Schumacher suffers from a mental illness entitling her to protection under the FHAA.

[¶3.] On September 2, 2010, Schumacher renewed her lease with Meadowland for a term that was to extend from October 1, 2010, through October 31, 2010. The lease was to continue on a month-to-month basis after October 31, 2010. Under the terms of the lease, Meadowland could not terminate the lease unless Schumacher violated certain specified conditions. One such condition was "material non-compliance" with the terms of the lease. "Material non-compliance" was defined to include: (1) one or more substantial violations of the lease; (2) repeated minor violations of the lease that (a) disrupt the livability of the project; (b) adversely affect the health or safety of any person or the right of any tenant to the quiet enjoyment to [sic] the leased premises and related project facilities . . . .

[¶4.] Meadowland served a notice to quit and vacate upon Schumacher on October 12, 2010, alleging that Schumacher failed to comply with the terms of the lease by engaging in the following conduct: (a) Disturbing or harassing other residents; (b) Having an unauthorized business on premises; (c) Not putting maintenance requests in writing; (d) Conducting illegal activities on the premises; (e) Causing damage/waste to the property; (f) Having a pet of any type without written consent from Management; (g) Washing pet items in washer and leaving pet hair inside; (h) Failure to provide proper veterinarian documentation of health of animal; (i) Failure to register animal with the city and license animal; (j) Failure to fill out required service animal agreement for Meadowland Apartments; (k) Failure to maintain apartment or common areas in a clean and sanitary condition; and (l) Excessive noise from [Schumacher's] apartment.

[¶5.] After Schumacher failed to surrender the apartment, Meadowland initiated an eviction action pursuant to SDCL 21-16-1. Schumacher initially retained William Blewett to represent her in the eviction action. Mr. Blewett served an answer on behalf of Schumacher on October 28, 2010. A trial was scheduled for November 18, 2010, before Magistrate Judge John Hinrichs.

[¶6.] On November 8, 2010, Mr. Blewett withdrew from the case. Douglas Cummings began representing Schumacher. On November 17, 2010, Mr. Cummings requested a continuance on the grounds that he lacked sufficient time to adequately prepare for trial. The magistrate court denied the motion for continuance.

[¶7.] During the court trial, Schumacher testified that she obtained a dog in the spring of 2010 upon her doctor's recommendation. After obtaining the dog, Schumacher left a copy of a doctor's note and other unspecified paperwork in the rent payment drop-box. The doctor's note was signed by Dr. Michael Olson and stated, "[Schumacher] would benefit from a pet companion on a physical and emotional basis."

[¶8.] Schumacher testified that about one or two weeks later, Tamera VanBockern informed her that she needed to complete additional paperwork. VanBockern is the community manager for Dominium Management Services, which provided property management services to Meadowland. VanBockern testified that the paperwork she requested from Schumacher included the dog's vaccination records and proof that it was licensed with the city. Schumacher did not provide this documentation to Meadowland. Instead, Schumacher testified that she placed the dog in the care of her friends so that it would no longer live with her in the apartment.

[¶9.] On August 24, 2010, Meadowland provided Schumacher with a pet policy agreement, which she signed. On the agreement, Schumacher checked a box indicating that she did not have a dog. She testified that at the time she signed the pet policy agreement, the dog was not living with her.

[ΒΆ10.] Schumacher testified that at some point after she signed the pet policy agreement, the dog began living with her again. She did not inform Meadowland that the dog was living with her and did not request an accommodation. On October 5, 2010, an inspection of Schumacher's apartment was performed by VanBockern and her assistant, Lisa Hastings. VanBockern testified that when they walked into Schumacher's apartment, the smell of pet urine and feces was overwhelming. She observed several stains on the carpet. ...

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