NY Community Accused of Refusing to Let Disabled Vet Keep Assistance Animal

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recent announced a settlement requiring the owners of a community in Plattsburgh, N.Y., to stop denying assistance animals to disabled residents.

Although communities are legally allowed to prohibit pets, landlords cannot prohibit assistance animals because they are not considered pets under federal fair housing law. Assistance animals perform tasks for disabled individuals or provide emotional support that helps with symptoms of the disability. Most assistance animals are dogs, but cats and other animals can qualify as well. The law permits communities to verify that the person has a disability and that the assistance animal is needed to help cope with it. Once these are verified, the landlord cannot prohibit the animal as a pet. Nor can the landlord charge extra rent or an extra deposit for the assistance animal.

The settlement resolves a fair housing complaint filed by a disabled veteran, who alleged that the owners refused to rent to him because he had an assistance animal. The veteran said that the dog helps alleviate symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. When he tried to rent the unit, he said that he made it clear that he was disabled and needed the animal to help with the disability. But he said that the owner responded, “We do not accept pets. Thank you for your interest,” and refused to rent to him.

Among other things, the settlement requires the community to adopt a written policy for accommodating residents with disabilities and to pay to the Attorney General $3,000, up to half of which may be used to compensate individuals whose disabilities were not properly accommodated.

“Service animals provide a level of comfort and security to individuals with disabilities, greatly improving their lives,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “My office will continue fighting to defend the rights of New Yorkers with disabilities and enforce the laws that protect them.”