HUD Lawsuit Reinforces Right to Emotional Support Animals under Housing Laws

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last week announced the approval of a conciliation agreement with a housing provider in San Francisco over allegations of housing discrimination. The agreement resolved a lawsuit filed by a disabled tenant alleging he was denied the opportunity to rent because he had an emotional support animal. The case highlights the importance of understanding the difference between a service animal, emotional support animal, therapy animal and puppy in training, and whether the Fair Housing Act (FHA) or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies. Failure to understand the differences can result in an act of housing discrimination, and violation of state and federal law. In this particular case, the prospective tenant was accompanied by his emotional support animal, generally defined as a dog or other animal whose sole function is to provide comfort or provide emotional support to its owner with a disability. Because the tenant met the statutory definition of having a disability — a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, seeing, washing, dressing, etc.) — he was entitled to request a reasonable accommodation under the FHA to the facility’s "no pets" policy. Courts have consistently held that tenants requesting a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal must demonstrate a relationship between his or her disability and the companionship of the animal. Furthermore, landlords are entitled to ask for supporting materials from a physician or other legitimate medical professional documenting the need for an emotional support animal. A few cases that cite the proposition that a nexus or relationship must be established between the alleged disability and need for the emotional support animal include:
  • Bhogaita v. Altamonte Heights Condominium Ass’n, Inc., 765 F.3d 1277 (11th Cir. 2014)
  • Castellano v. Access Premier Realty, Inc., 181 F.Supp.3d 798 (E.D. Cal. 2016)
  • Overlook Mut. Homes, Inc. v. Spencer, 415 Fed. Appx. 617 (6th Cir. 2011)
  • Majors v. Housing Authority of the County of Dekalb, 652 F.2d 454 (5th Cir. 1981)
To learn more about the right to emotional support animals in rental housing, please contact Jeffrey Augello.

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