COACH's Pop Quiz!
Did Community Illegally Deny Reasonable Accommodation Request?
How do you think a court ruled in this recent fair housing case?
What Happened: Despite a community’s no-pet policy, a resident asked if she could have a cat as an emotional support animal. She provided a letter from a licensed therapist that said that the resident had a disability and needed an emotional support animal to help alleviate her symptoms, but the letter identified no disability or symptoms. The community requested more information from the resident, but the resident didn’t provide the requested information. She brought the cat into her unit anyway, and the community evicted her.
The resident filed a complaint with the state civil rights commission, which sued the community for failure to accommodate the resident’s request for an emotional support animal in violation of state fair housing law. The court refused the community’s request for judgment without a trial, and the community appealed.
What did the court decide?
Answer & Explanation
In March 2020, the Indiana appeals court reversed, ruling that the fair housing case against the community should be dismissed.
Fair housing law doesn’t demand that housing providers immediately grant all requests for accommodation. Before a community can make a decision about a resident’s request for accommodation, it’s entitled to conduct a “meaningful review” to determine whether the accommodation is required; this review includes requesting documentation and opening a dialog.
In this case, the community asked the resident for more information, but she didn’t respond. By not providing the community with information about her disability and disability-related need for the animal, the resident caused a breakdown in the process. Without this basic information, the community couldn’t meaningfully review the resident’s request for an emotional support animal, so the community was entitled to judgment without a trial on the resident’s disability discrimination claim [Furbee v. Wilson, 2020 Ind.App. LEXIS 122, March 2020].
You can find similar cases in our September 2020 lesson, “Dos & Don'ts for Handling Reasonable Accommodation Requests,” available to subscribers here.