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Condo | HOA Lawyers

FINALLY, a Helpful Emotional Support Animal Case

Facts

Plaintiff, Linder (“Tenant”), entered into a lease in October 2016.  Tenant agreed in the lease not to bring dogs, or other animals on the premises.  Five months later Tenant asked the Landlord if she could have an emotional support animal.  She gave one of the internet letters to support her need for the animal.  The letter said the Tenant was disabled but did not identify the disability or identify any limitations or symptoms of the disability.  Upon receiving the request, Landlord asked the Tenant to consent to his sending the medical provider a letter that asked:

  1. The nature of the mental or physical impairment that is disabling, including a reference to the DSM 5 description of the condition;
  2. A statement of what major life activity this disability interferes with;
  3. Whether the medical provider interviewed the patient;
  4. A statement that the medical provider conducted an examination of the patient appropriate for the diagnosis of the mental impairment in question under the professional guidelines applicable to a Licensed Clinical Social worker and as described in the DSM 5;
  5. That the medical provider photocopy his or her license and send it to Landlord;
  6. Whether a physical exam was conducted of the patient; and
  7. How many sessions the medical provider had with the patient;

The Landlord asked the Tenant to sign the consent letter.  Tenant did not provide the additional information nor sign the consent form.  “As a result, Landlord took no action on Tenant’s request.” Tenant brought a cat in anyway in August of 2017.  The Landlord fined and later evicted the Tenant.  Tenant then filed a complaint against the Landlord for “discrimination on the basis of disability and handicap…”

Trial Court

Landlord’s questions, as to how many times the provider and Tenant met, the length of the visits and whether a physical exam occurred exceeded the reasonable inquiry to which the Landlord was entitled.  Landlord appealed.

Appeals Court
  1. For the Plaintiff to prevail on a failure to accommodate claim, Plaintiff must establish:
    1. Plaintiff is a person with a disability within the meaning of the FHA;
    2. The Plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation for the disability;
    3. The requested accommodation was necessary to afford the Plaintiff an opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; and
    4. The Defendant refused to make the accommodation.
  2. The request for an accommodation “necessarily includes the ability to conduct a meaningful review” to determine whether the FHA requires the requested accommodation;
  3. Landlord was correct that it was not given enough information to make a meaningful review, in that the request and letter:
    1. Identified no disability; and
    2. Identifies no limitations or symptoms of the disability.
  4. These failures in the letter justified the Landlord trying to open a dialogue with Tenant and requesting more information.
  5. “Without information about Tenant’s disability and disability-related need for the animal, Landlord could not meaningfully review Tenant’s request.” Therefore, trial court decision was reversed.
LESSONS
  1. If you receive an emotional support animal request – track all of those requests and keep a record of them for evidence later to show you routinely grant them;
  2. If you don’t have enough information to make a decision, ask for what you need.

Furbee v. Wilson, 144 N.E.3d 801 (2020)

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