Frequent readers of this blog know that the Fair Housing Act exists in large part to prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their physical appearance (race, gender, national origin, etc.). However, did you know that you cannot discriminate against assistance animals based on appearance either? A recent charge by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) accused one landlord of doing just that.
The landlord found itself in the doghouse with HUD after denying a resident the right to keep his assistance animal at the apartment complex. The resident, a veteran who served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, submitted a request to allow his assistance animal—a Great Dane/Labrador Retriever mix—at the property. Not only did the landlord deny the request (which included proper documentation both for the animal and the resident’s disability) they went so far as to “strongly suggest you consider a cat for your service animal” (Spoiler alert- dog lovers are not the only ones who took offense to this gross injustice). When the resident refused to adopt a new assistance animal that fell within the 12 pound weight limit, the landlord filed an eviction action against the resident. Although the eviction charge was dropped, the resident suffered “physical and emotional distress, inconvenience and frustration” and left the apartment complex shortly thereafter.
In response, HUD found cause against the landlord for three distinct violations of the Fair Housing Act: 1) making housing unavailable when they sought to evict the resident for his assistance animal; 2) refusing to afford an accommodation necessary for equal enjoyment and use of the dwelling; and 3) enforcing “arbitrary, unnecessary, and unlawful restrictions on the weight and type of support animal.”
So what’s the bottom line? That it’s futile to try to convert a dog lover? That cats are superior assistance animals? While HUD did not definitively opine on the great dog versus cat debate, they did make clear that landlords are explicitly prohibited from excluding assistance animals based on breed and/or weight restrictions. Bottom line, whether you are a cat lover or a dog lover, all assistance animals with a clear nexus to the resident’s disability must be allowed as a reasonable accommodation (provided that proper documentation is submitted). Failure to do so could put you in the doghouse too.