NYC Complex Accused of Denying Disabled Resident Emotional Support Animal

HUD recently accused the owners and managers of a high-rise complex in New York City with violating fair housing law by refusing to allow a resident with disabilities to have an emotional support animal. Federal fair housing law requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when a person with a disability requires such accommodations, including granting waivers to “no-pet” policies for persons who require assistance or support animals, according to HUD.

The case began with a HUD complaint filed by the resident, who shared a two-bedroom unit at the supportive housing residence for senior citizens, working professionals, and persons living with HIV/AIDS. The resident said he got the small dog a year after beginning treatment with a mental healthcare provider for a psychiatric disability. Allegedly, the doctor recognized an improvement in the resident’s condition and recommended that he register the animal as an emotional support animal through an online registry.

After the landlords initiated eviction proceedings against him because of the dog, the resident said he submitted documentation from his doctor and the online registry to show that the dog was an emotional support animal. Instead of accepting the documentation, the landlords allegedly sent him a final termination notice, stating that he had not sufficiently demonstrated his need for the animal. Legal proceedings between the resident and the landlords were put on hold pending HUD’s investigation.

“It’s not a landlord’s role to determine what a resident with disabilities needs in order to perform life’s daily functions,” HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Gustavo Velasquez said in a statement. “Landlords have an obligation to grant reasonable accommodations when they are needed and HUD will continue to work to ensure that they meet that obligation.”

The charge will be heard by a HUD administrative law judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court.

Editor’s Note: The Coach just wrapped up a two-part series on how to handle reasonable accommodation requests by individuals with disabilities to keep and use assistance animals at the community. In the October lesson, Part 1 covered the general rules on who qualifies as an individual with a disability and when you must make an exception to your pet policies to allow assistance animals as a reasonable accommodation. And in the November lesson, Part 2 discussed what to do about requests for animals often excluded because of restrictions on size, breed, or number of pets allowed and whether you can apply common conditions, such as payment of pet deposits, to cover potential damage caused by an assistance animal. It’s a good time to review those lessons to avoid fair housing problems involving requests for assistance animals.