HCC student sues apartments over his emotional support dog

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A Hillsborough Community College student alleges the management company that runs the school's student housing complex is discriminating against students with disabilities.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Tampa, attorney Matthew Dietz and student Austin Cline say Peak Campus Management of Atlanta requires illegal stipulations surrounding the use of emotional support animals. Cline is prescribed an emotional support dog to combat clinical depression.

He bought his dog Luna shortly after enrolling at HCC.

"I was having suicidal thoughts, I was feeling horrible," Cline said. "She makes me happy.  Everyday that I have her, she helps me wake up and start taking care of her."

Luna seemed like the perfect aide for his first semester away from his native South Florida.

HCC seemed like the perfect fit, too. "I saw that they had on-campus living, which is rare for a community college," he said.

A lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday says Peak insisted on a cleaning surcharge, that roommates agree to the animal, and that the dog never be left alone.  Cline says that is impossible for a college student who also works off campus part-time.

"Emotional support animals and service dogs alike are not pets under any sense of the word," he said. "They are support animals to help people with disabilities."

His lawyer, Matthew Dietz of the Disability Independence Group of Miami, says Peak's requirements discriminate against the disabled under the Fair Housing Act.

"They shouldn't have these rules. These rules only stop students from going to college, from getting what they need, from staying in school," said Dietz.

They are suing for Peak to change their rules, to allow the emotional support dog and for punitive damages because of the stress cline has endured to sort this all out.

"I want to not be intimidated or pressured into abiding by unjust rules, illegal rules," said Cline. "I just want to live my life and be happy."

Peak campus management says they have not received the lawsuit, and could not comment for this story.

HCC says they can't comment either, because they are not named in the suit.