A tenant will qualify for a reasonable accommodation under the FHA if he or she can meet the statutory definition of having a “disability,” which currently requires proving the following three elements: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life skill (e.g., the ability to walk or vision); (2) a record of having such an impairment; or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment.
The final step requires that the tenant establish that the emotional support animal (ESA) is necessary for the owner to use and enjoy his or her dwelling. Courts have regularly held that a tenant requesting an ESA as a reasonable accommodation must demonstrate a link between the ESA and its owner’s ability to function. See, e.g., Nason v. Stone Hill Realty Ass’n, 1996 WL 1186942 (Mass. 1996) (unpublished); Crossroads Apartments v. LeBoo, 578 N.Y.S. 2d 1004 (City of Rochester, N.Y. 1991); Janush v. Charities Hous. Dev. Corp., 169 F. Supp. 2d 1133 (N.D. Ca., 2000); Majors v. Hous. Auth. of the Ctny of Dekalb, 652 F. 2d 454 (5th Cir. 1981). Legally, a landlord is permitted to request supporting materials which illustrate the tenant’s need for an ESA; however, federal law does not mandate the tenant to provide proof of training or ESA certification of an animal.
When assessing a tenant’s request for an ESA as a reasonable accommodation, the landlord is permitted to consider the financial and programmatic repercussions of allowing an ESA onto the premises. Considerations can also include the potential disturbance the animal may pose to other tenants. Generally, this is a difficult burden for a landlord to meet. But if the ESA is shown to be particularly disruptive or the tenant fails to take proper measures to ensure that the ESA does not bother other tenants, the landlord may be justified in denying the reasonable accommodation or even evicting the tenant. See Woodside Vill. v. Hertzmark, 1993 WL 268293 (Conn. 1993) (unpublished) (where a court found that a federally assisted housing complex did not violate the Fair Housing Act by evicting a resident with a mental illness for failure to walk his dog in designated areas and use a “pooper-scooper”).
When the old saying “a dog is man’s best friend” was adopted, it was certainly not with ESAs in mind. But it appears the term encompasses much of the methodology surrounding ESA law. A dog—and other animals—have been scientifically shown to help alleviate stress and depression in certain individuals. The intersection of ESAs and accommodations by landlords is at its beginning and will continue to evolve.