Tenant Request for Service or Support Animal
Have you been to a restaurant lately and seen a patron sitting in the booth next to you with a dog? It is becoming more and more common to see animals in places that typically prohibit them. This is because there are local, state, and federal laws enabling persons with disabilities to be accompanied by animals in public places – even where animals are prohibited - under certain circumstances. The same is true with housing. A landlord may be required to allow a disabled tenant to have an animal even when there is a strict no pet policy for the property.
Fair Housing Laws
It is unlawful for a landlord to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford disabled tenant an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a rental unit.
What does this really mean? It means that a landlord may have to make exceptions to standard rental practices and policies (such as no pet policies) in order to accommodate a tenant with a disability.
A disability isn’t limited to physical or visible impairments. It is broadly defined to include individuals with a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity. This may include conditions such as carpal tunnel or depression. So it may not be obvious to a landlord that a tenant suffers from a qualifying disability.
A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space. Reasonable accommodations may be necessary at all stages of the housing process, including application, tenancy, or to prevent eviction.
A tenant must first request a reasonable accommodation. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the tenant has to come right out and ask, but instead, a request is sufficient as soon as the tenant makes it clear that he or she is requesting an exception, change, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service because of a disability. The tenant does not need to use the magic words “reasonable accommodation” to trigger the landlord’s obligation to provide one.
Evidence of Disability
A landlord may not inquire about the nature or severity of a disability. But, in response to an accommodation request the landlord can request certain general information to verify the following:
that the tenant is disabled within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act (frequently a doctor’s may be provided);
that describes the needed accommodation (such as a guide dog); and
that shows the relationship between the disability and need for the requested accommodation (for example, the tenant is blind and needs a guide dog).
When a tenant has a disability that is obvious or known to the landlord, the landlord may not request any additional information about the disability.
Animal as Accommodation
Service animals are specifically trained to perform certain tasks such as guiding a blind person or pulling a wheelchair. Comfort or companion or support animals may not have any specific training but may provide comfort, companionship, or support to a disabled person in need. All such animals may reasonably accommodate a person with a disability so long as there is an identifiable relationship or nexus between the requested accommodation and the tenant’s disability.
A landlord is not required to provide an unreasonable accommodation for a disability, which may include an accommodation that causes an undue financial or administrative burden or poses a direct threat to health or safety of others. Even when a request may be unreasonable, a landlord still must open a dialogue to discuss alternative reasonable solutions and accommodations.
Failure or refusal to provide a reasonable accommodation may be considered discrimination against a person with a disability and may violate applicable fair housing laws.
© 2016 by Fried & Williams LLP. All Rights Reserved. The information contained in this article is general in nature. For advice on any particular matter, please consult with our attorneys because the facts of your situation may be unique and the law changes from time to time.