COACH's Pop Quiz!
Q: Our community allows pets, but not pit bulls, because we believe they pose a safety risk. If a resident says her pit bull is an assistance animal, must we consider making an exception to the breed restriction as a reasonable accommodation?
A: Yes. In January 2016, the owners and managers of a Minnesota community agreed to pay $35,000 to settle a fair housing case involving a resident’s pit bull. In its complaint, the Justice Department alleged that they discriminated against a resident based on her disability by placing undue conditions on her resident’s request to live with her assistance animal and then refused to renew her lease.
Lesson Learned: Don’t make the mistake of flatly refusing requests for exceptions to breed restrictions for assistance animals. Under fair housing law, communities must consider a request for an exception to pet policies, including size, weight, and breed restrictions, as a reasonable accommodation when necessary to allow an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the property. The issue is whether the particular animal poses a direct health and safety risk based on its past behavior or history rather than fear or speculation about harm or damage based on its breed.
For more on the lessons learned from the latest fair housing news, see the Coach’s April 2016 lesson available to subscribers here.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about fair housing rules governing assistance animals, you can download our recent webinar, “Assistance Animals: What Housing Providers Need to Know.” This one-hour program, presented by California attorney Theresa L. Kitay, offers much-needed guidance to multifamily housing owners and managers on complying with their obligations to accommodate people with disabilities who require assistance animals. To purchase the webinar, click here.