Is Your Emotional Support Dog a Bone of Contention?

emotional support dog

Dogs can bring us companionship, a sense of purpose and enhanced health. Fortunately, courts (and landlords) are increasingly recognizing that an emotional support dog may be a reasonable accommodation of a disability under federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act. Castillo Condo Ass’n. v. U.S. Dep’t. of Hous. & Urban Dev., 821 F.3d 92, 96 (1st Cir. 2016); HUD No. 13-060 (April 30, 2013); McFadden v. Meeker Housing Auth. Civ. No. 16-cv-2304-WJM-GPG (D. Colo. February 15, 2019).

This law prohibits discrimination in the terms and conditions of housing rented to a disabled person where her disability substantially limits one or more major life activities and the landlord denies a request for a reasonable accommodation necessary to allow the disabled individual an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(B).

Major life activities are defined as basic functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working and presumably, studying in an academic environment.  Discrimination in the terms and conditions rented housing on the basis of a handicap is prohibited when there is a refusal to make a reasonable accommodation in the rules, policies or practices or serves when the accommodations may be necessary to allow the person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. For instance, in the case of a college student diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, if the disability interferes with the student’s activities, for example, by interfering with sleeping patterns, which interferes with the student’s abilities to study effectively, attend early morning classes, and to socialize, and the soothing presences of an emotional support animal will greatly alleviate the anxiety, stress and depression, making it possible for the student to regularly sleep through the night, attend classes, and socialize with her peers, the presence of an emotional support animal may be a reasonable accommodation for this student.

An emotional support dog may be a reasonable accommodation for an individual whose disability. However, the disabled individual should be careful to comply with the landlord’s legitimate safety and hygiene related policies, including walking the dog in designated areas and compliance with pooper scooper requirements. Woodside Village v. Hertzmar, 8 Conn. Super. Ct. 801 (Conn Super Ct 1993).  For more information on reasonable accommodations under federal law, contact an experienced dog-loving, disability lawyer.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

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