Ask the Lawyer by: Daniel Gwinn A. Gwinn, Esq.
This week’s question: CHALLENGING RESTRICTIVE ‘NO PETS’ POLICIES
QUESTION: I live in a condominium complex that has a “No Pets” policy. I was fine with that when I bought my unit, but now my adult daughter needs to move in with me. My daughter is in therapy for emotional issues that surfaced after she was threatened and physically injured during an armed robbery at her place of employment. Her therapy includes a relationship with Shadow, a 114 pound mixed-breed dog. I can’t afford to move, my daughter needs a place to live, and Shadow goes with my daughter everywhere. What can I do?
ANSWER: You should request an accommodation for your daughter from the condominium Association and seek an exception to the “No Pets” policy. Federal law under the Fair Housing Amendments Act states that it is unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules or policies when such accommodations may be necessary to allow a person with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
A party requesting an accommodation to housing rules must establish she is a qualified person with a disability. Because your daughter’s psychological and emotion issues limit her ability to care for herself and to have trusting relationships with others, your daughter is a qualified individual with a disability.
The accommodation requested must be reasonable and necessary to afford the person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. A request on behalf of your daughter for an exception to the “No Pets” rule should state that your daughter’s mental issues are alleviated, at least in part, by Shadow’s presence. Where rules and policies have the a disparate impact on equal opportunity for persons with disabilities, those rules and policies must be relaxed to level an unbalanced playing field.
Your request on behalf of your daughter is reasonable because it rebalances the playing field and does not impose a direct threat to the health, safety, or welfare of others living in your condominium complex. The accommodation you seek on behalf of your daughter is necessary to allow her to live with you in the dwelling of her choice.
A blanket “No Pets,” rule violates the Fair Housing Amendments Act when it denies persons with disabilities who rely on companion animals equal opportunity to live in the dwelling of their choice. Disability statutes are liberally construed, and require a different interpretation of strict and uniform enforcement of rules like “No Pets” because persons with disabilities are different and have different needs. Courts have invalidated “No Pets” policies where their strict enforcement would deny equal opportunity in housing. If your Association denies your request for a reasonable accommodation on behalf of your daughter, you should retain a lawyer with experience in civil rights law to assist you in obtaining a fair remedy.
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