A host of federal, state, and local laws prohibit discrimination in the residential (and commercial) landlord-tenant area. In the rental of “housing accommodations”, guide, signal or service dogs required by blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, or physically disabled tenants may not be prohibited, regardless of the landlord’s normal pet policies. Rental agreements for housing accommodations may include terms which “reasonably regulate the presence” of guide, signal or service dogs on the premises; and disabled tenants may be held liable under general law for damage caused by their guide, signal or service dogs. However, the law is less clear when a residential tenant with no apparent disability (blindness, hearing disability) desires to house a cat, dog, or other “emotional support animal”—an ESA animal. The law requires landlords to make “reasonable accommodations” for tenant disabilities. However, Landlords are left with little guidance in this area and face potential liability and attorney’s fees when challenging tenant requests to keep an ESA animal. An accommodation is necessary when there is evidence showing that the desired accommodation will affirmatively enhance a disabled plaintiff’s quality of life by ameliorating the effects of the disability. There must be an identifiable relationship, or nexus, between the requested accommodation and the individual’s disability. Although this is a murky area for landlords who suspect a tenant’s request for an ESA animal accommodation is not genuine, we have creative ways to handle these issues to hopefully ensure only tenant’s with real disabilities are given accommodations.
Author: Kevin R. Nimmons, Attorney and Shareholder at Hollister & Brace, A.P.C.