Animal rights and housing laws have experienced radical change. “No pet” policies are no longer inflexible, as housing accommodations are now granted for individuals with emotional and mental disorders. Historically, landlords were only required to allow pets to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities by way of service animals, trained to do work or accomplish tasks for those with disabilities.
At issue are the lack of definitive rules and regulations for emotional-support animals, which require no training or certification.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for a landlord to deny a reasonable accommodation (i.e., a rule change) for someone with a disability in order to allow such person the right to use and enjoy the dwelling. This means that a tenant with an emotional disability must be allowed to have an emotional-support animal, even if the landlord has a “no pet” policy.
Does that mean all requests must be allowed? No. A tenant raising an accommodation claim has the burden of showing that the proposed accommodation is reasonable – considered by weighing the tenant’s purported benefits against the landlord’s purposes for denial – and necessary, shown by the tenant establishing a sufficient link between the requested accommodation and the disability.
Denial of a request for an accommodation allowing emotional-support animals can occur if the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others or if the landlord demonstrates that the accommodation would result in substantial physical damage to the dwelling. Denial could also occur if the landlord shows that the request poses an undue financialburden.
Since this is a relatively new phenomenon, the rules governing emotional-support animals are not well established, allowing for great debate and fact-‐intensive inquiry. Emotional-support animals are a powerful tool for those with emotional disabilities and access must be allowed, except for the most valid reasons. However, landlords have great responsibility – in caring for the well-being of others and of the residential space itself – and, therefore, the rule of law must be followed in accommodating requests for comfort animals.
Attorney Craig Morgan, is a member of the Metrolina Real Estate Investors Association, www.MetrolinaREIA.org, which provides education, networking, and mentoring to Investors in the Greater Charlotte area. You may contact Craig at Craig@McGrathSpielberger.com.