A brand new decision from Northern California, Hintz v. Chase, 17-CV-02198-JCS, 2017 WL 3421979 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2017) reminds both property owners and sales or leasing agents that no one can escape responsibility for making the right decision in cases under the Fair Housing Act. This is an especially important reminder for those in the market for single family residences unacquainted with the subtleties of disability discrimination and the notion of reasonable accommodation and modification. More
FHA Emotional Support Animals
A decision from the Western District of Texas should remind landlords that the world of FHA litigation is unforgiving and expensive, so the best thing is to get it right the first time. Reading it has prompted us to re-offer our webinar on dealing with accommodation requests involving animals later this month and next. Details appear at the end of this blog.
Chavez v Aber, 122 F.Supp.3d 581 (W.D. Tex. 2015) involved a child with a mixed breed pit-bull as an emotional support animal. There was no question about the child’s psychiatric disability or the fact that the child’s doctor recommended the dog for therapeutic purposes, so the only legal question was whether to dog had to be accommodated despite a “no pets” policy and the fact that pit-bulls are regarded as a dangerous breed. That did not mean the case was simple. As the court pointed out more than once, cases involving accommodation depend very much on the facts. More
Anyone reading the news, or at least the disability news, understands that so called emotional support animals for persons with mental disabilities are a big deal. The number of HUD complaints based on refusals to allow ESA’s is growing, and there is a booming industry filing complaints, selling fake service dog paraphernalia, and selling bogus diagnosis of disability. With all this going on, it might be reasonable to ask whether there is any evidence at all that ESA’s at home or on an airplane are really of any value at all to a person who is disabled. Despite the noise from animal advocates, the science doesn’t support their claims. More
On May 17 a jury in the District of Montana found that a landlord violated the Fair Housing Act by requiring a pet deposit from a disabled tenant and awarded damages of almost $40,000. (U.S. v. Katz et al, Case No. 14-68). Why is this good news for landlords? Because there was a jury trial, meaning the landlord had a chance to win.
HUD and the DOJ have long taken the position that any requirement of a pet deposit for a service dog or assistance animal* violates the reasonable accommodation provisions of the FHA. (Notice dated April 23, 2013, FHEO-2013-01). The position is illogical on its face because HUD and DOJ recognize that a disabled tenant remains responsible for any damage caused by a service or assistance animal. If the tenant remains responsible for the damage, why not require a damage deposit? HUD does not require that landlords waive a rent or general damage deposit for disabled tenants, and a pet deposit is no different. Nonetheless, HUD has spoken and requests for accommodation in the form of pet deposit waivers have skyrocketed since 2013. More
The National Psychologist’s January/February 2017 edition includes Richard’s article “What is a disability, anyway?” The article explains for mental health professionals why caution is needed in diagnosing a “disability” when the term has a legal, rather than a medical, meaning. You can read the full text of the article at The National Psychologist online edition. Those who are interested in the ways in which sloppy and even unprofessional diagnosis are feeding a boom in fake emotional support animal requests should check our earlier blog Just Say “No” to bogus ESA requests and email for a copy of our webinar on dealing with fake requests for emotional support animals.