Realtors often ask intriguing questions with nuances that run the gauntlet, but one thing is certain: no legal answer is ever as simple as the question being asked.
One recent example centers on whether the disability section of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended, would allow a landlord who is severely allergic to dogs to deny a prospective tenant and her assistance animal access to the property. The answer is not one that lends itself to a simple yes or no.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) covers several protected classes, but this article is limited to those with disabilities. The FHA protects tenants and homebuyers with disabilities – and those who live with or are associated with the disabled individual – from discrimination. It similarly forbids housing providers from placing conditions on residency or refusing residency to individuals with disabilities because the individual may require reasonable accommodations.
According to the FHA, one type of disability discrimination prohibited is the refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. In essence, reasonable accommodations are those that, when made, would allow disabled individuals to experience, use and enjoy a dwelling under fairer, more equal circumstances.
Assistance animals – an animal that provides emotional support or performs a task for the benefit of the individual with a disability – are not pets. They are instead animals that work or provide comfort. Oftentimes, assistance animals are dogs – but the law doesn’t mandate that it must be. The law doesn’t require that assistance animals be trained to undertake any specific tasks; however, if the reason for the animal is not obvious, the person seeking an accommodation may be asked to provide additional information.
The dilemma here revolves around whether a prospective tenant with a disability, who has made a request to visit a home alongside her canine assistance animal, can be denied by a landlord who is severely allergic to dogs. In this scenario, what must the landlord do?
The landlord must first and foremost consider the buyer’s request for reasonable accommodations, and if granting the request would impose an undue hardship. The determination of “undue hardship” must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, including the options of alternative accommodations to meet the tenant’s needs. If an alternative solution can’t be found, it could be treated as a denial, and the landlord should be able to show that additional reasonable accommodations were proposed to the prospective tenant.
In general, sellers and landlords must always operate in good faith and should never give arbitrary denials. A buyer or tenant whose request for reasonable accommodations has been unreasonably denied may seek remedies against the seller or landlord in court or through the complaint process prescribed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Buyers, tenants, landlords, and sellers are encouraged to seek the advice of their own attorney to learn more about this very important issue.
Tyrone Martin is a Florida Realtors attorney
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