Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

Service Dogs and Their Rights

Service dogs, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, have numerous rights. The ADA protects the rights of those with disabilities from discrimination, and give service animals the right to perform their duties so those with disabilities can participate in everyday life. Service animals, such as dogs and miniature horses, are individually trained to perform specific tasks related to the person’s disability. The general rules about how service dogs can interact with the world around them are quite specific.

When it comes to landlords and tenancy, some landlords will have a “no pets” policy on their premises.  This, if not handled, can potentially cause problems for those who have pets. However, if your animal if a service animal, you do not have to worry about any of the legal repercussions of your service animal, as they and you are protected under the ADA. If you are not ready to train or buy a service dog you may still benefit from an emotional support animal or ESA.

Need an ESA Letter? Read how to get one online here.

How Do I Prove I Have A Service Animal?

The beauty of having a service animal is that you don’t need to prove anything to be given access. The ADA does not require service animals to have vests, leashes, or gear that identifies them as being a service animal, nor does the ADA handle any of the specifications involving training and certifying service animals. Training and qualifying service animals fall under any organization that trains service animals for those with disabilities. As long as you have your documentation on you, knowing that you are disabled and have a service animal gives you the benefit of protection under the ADA. So, what happens when someone does doubt your disability or service dog? Here’s where the ADA jumps in once more.

How The ADA Benefits You:

The ADA specifically limits the power of those who run goods and services operations in favor of protecting the rights of the disabled. A landlord, a business owner, or a covered entity employee are only allowed to ask two questions in regards to a service animal:

1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? 2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

With these two questions specially lined up, staff are not allowed to request documentation for the dog, ask it to demonstrate its tasks or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability. For instance, if you’re heading into a hotel that doesn’t allow pets to accommodate the rooms, as long as you know, by documentation and medical records that you are a disabled person and have a trained service dog, then that means that you and your pet will be allowed to occupy that premise. With very few exceptions to this rule, the ADA gives you and your service animal access to public spaces.

How Does the ADA Apply to Housing?

Housing falls under the Fair Housing Act, an act that explains the housing obligations of providers in relation to their residents. The FHA follows the rules and regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which in turn provides specific instructions for housing providers in their cases for accommodating those with disabilities.

Because landlords are not allowed to ask about the documentation for the animal, ask for a demonstration for the dog’s abilities, and inquire about the disabled person’s disabilities, then that means that the landlord has to accommodate for the new tenant and their service animal. By doing so, they must permit the disabled person to live within the housing residency through a modification or exception to their “no pets” policy. Other entities that are also subjected to the ADA and FHA acts are public housing agencies, rental offices, shelters, residential homes, multi-family housing, dorm rooms at universities and colleges, and assisted living facilities.

So, What Animals Need A Letter?

Emotional support animals are the type of assistance animals that would need a letter to be approved for housing. This is because ESA’s are not protected under the American’s with Disabilities Act. However, for those with emotional support animals, they can request a letter from their mental health professional for accommodations, as those letters provide one of the main leeways for access to housing with a “no pets” policy. 

Why are there issues with dog breeds and housing?

According to an article published by NIMH, younger adults tend to believe that landlords and property managers discriminate against their animals, specifically if they have large dogs or dogs of a specific breed. Many would also speak of how properties that did accept pets would be less than substandard quality in comparison to the landlord’s pool of available listings and also report paying non-refundable pet fees and monthly pet rents.

For the tenants that contributed to the study, many said residents staying put in their rental apartments longer than those who do not have pets, given the difficulty of finding a place that will accommodate dogs. This difficulty, according to the results of the study, shows that this situation influences the types of dogs younger adults to acquire, such as smaller dogs that are known to work better in apartments. The presented case specifically references pets, not service animals. However, for those with service animals of specific or large breeds, conflicts can occur if the tenant has issues.

What does the ADA say about service dog breeds?

The Americans with Disabilities Act describes in great detail about the role of service dogs as well as their rules and regulations. Because service dogs have specific rights to public places, it means they can also be any breed.

The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breed that can qualify for a service dog. Because any breed can be a service animal, facilities do not have the right to exclude a service animal based on the animal’s breed. Only if the animal has a history of misbehavior or is not under adequate control of the handler that the animal would be excluded, municipalities that have ordinances for certain breeds must also comply with ADA regulations, thus are not allowed to exclude a service animal off of fears or generalizations of that specific breed.

Because any breed of dog can be a service dog, facilities do not have the right to exclude a service dog based on the dog’s breed. Only if the animal has a history of misbehavior or is not under adequate control of the handler that the animal would be excluded, municipalities that have ordinances for certain breeds must also comply with ADA regulations, thus are not allowed to exclude a service dog off of fears or generalizations of that specific breed. Read: This means Pit bulls too!

Does the Fair Housing Act allow landlords to deny certain breeds as emotional support dogs?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses a broader term, assistance animals, to encompass animals such as service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals.

The Fair Housing Act, which outlines the specific protocols and regulations that tenants and residents must follow, argues that housing providers cannot apply breed, size, or weight restrictions to assistance animals. It also agrees with ADA’s protocol that the removal of an animal must be based on the actual animal behavior, and not the assumptions and fears of the type of harms that could potentially happen. This also has protection under the FHA in regards to the potential resident, as those with disabilities are not allowed to be discriminated against because of those disabilities. In alignment with ADA and FHA, service dogs and emotional support dogs cannot be refused. Please note that ESA registration is not required by law, but can assist in identifying your animal as an emotional support animal to your landlord or HOA.

TLDR: Your assistance animal (service animal or emotional support dog) cannot be denied based on breed, size, or weight.

What to do if your landlord refuses to accommodate?

If your request is reasonable and the landlord denies it, you, as a person with a disability, have the right to request your local government agency to investigate in the matter in claims of discrimination. Some options include:

You can file a discrimination complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, either online or you can call the Housing Discrimination Hotline: (800) 669-9777. You can also file a complaint directly with your state’s agency if they investigate discriminatory claims. You can contact a disability attorney. Can landlords still charge pet fees?

Because service dogs and assistance animals are not considered pets, landlords, co-ops, and HOA’s are not allowed to charge tenants with extra pet fees or pet deposits. However, a tenant can still be charged fees for damages done by the animal to the home. It is also possible to charge residents if the animal is not able to be removed from the premises for misbehavior and/or damages.

If you cannot reach an amicable agreement with your landlord and you suspect they are discriminating agains you, you can seek support from your local Fair Housing Authority. It’s essential to file the discrimination within one year after the date of the discriminatory act, but it is recommended that it should be filed as soon as possible. The HUD or Fair Housing will then either investigate or submit it to another agency to investigate. As the HUD centers around those with disabilities, those that feel their rights were discriminated against can lead to legal actions such as compensation, changes in policies, and discrimination training. If you’re looking to file a discriminatory complaint, you can find more information about the investigation process on the HUD.gov website.

We have been receiving more and more requests on how to handle uncooperative apartment management companies and landlords. If you feel that you are being discriminated against for having a service dog, we suggest contacting the HUD to file a complaint. If you are unsure if your dog qualifies as a service dog, you may read this article

[h/t BX Times]

The NYC Commission on Human Rights recently won its case in defense of a resident of Parkchester South Condominiums who was threatened with eviction over her service dog.

Michelle Berrios, a nurse practitioner who has lived in her condo for nearly 30 years, started butting heads with management in March 2015 over its ‘no pets’ policy.

A Parkchester security guard wrote her a ticket for owning a toy poodle named Brownie, according to a CHR news release.

Parkchester is a complex of 171 buildings and roughly 12,000 apartments.

Parkchester South Condominium, Inc. owns the buildings in the south and west portion of the complex.

Parkchester Preservation Management, which manages the rental units, agreed to the following terms in a conciliation agreement negotiated with CHR in July 2017:

• Allows Berrios to keep her dog in her apartment.

• Paid Berrios $15,000 in emotional distress damages.

• Paid $81,250 in civil penalties to New York City for willful violations of the NYC Human Rights Law.

• Paid an additional $10,000 for breach of prior settlement agreement in another emotional support animal disability case.

After receiving the violation, Berrios went to the management office to explain that Brownie was an emotional support animal that ameliorates symptoms of her disabilities, including anxiety, migraines, and fibromyalgia.

But days later, Berrios received a notice from management stating she was in violation of her lease for harboring a dog and that if she didn’t resolve the violation, she would be evicted.

The next week, Berrios visited the condo’s offices again to clear up the violation and gave them a doctor’s note.

A management representative again denied her the accommodation and reportedly responded, “We’ll see you in court.”

So, Berrios filed a complaint with the CHR on April 2, 2015, charging PPM and Parkchester South Condominiums with discrimination because of her disability for refusing to grant her an accommodation that allows her to keep her emotional support dog.

Despite exceptions allowing residents to own service or emotional support animals, Parkchester had further restricted its policies illegally, according to the CHR .

“The policies include overly burdensome and intrusive standards governing waivers to its ‘no-dogs’ rule that impede people with disabilities from obtaining reasonable accommodat­ions,” according to Seth Hoy, Human Rights spokesperson.

Management had a narrow and arbitrary list of disabilities upon which they granted accommodations, according to Hoy, requiring tenants to provide a “diagnosis letter” describing how the assistance animals “assist the tenants with activities of daily life,” limiting those activities to physical “self-care tasks” including bathing, showering, dressing, eating, feeding, functional mobility, personal device care, personal hygiene, and toilet hygiene.

That list illegally prohibited tenants with mental disabilities from obtaining a reasonable accommodation to have a comfort animal.

It is illegal under the NYC Human Rights Law to discriminate against tenants with disabilities, including mental.

The commission amended the initial complaint in February 2016 with additional charges after its investigation uncovered “pattern or practice” discrimination and found that PPM retaliated against Berrios after she requested the accommodation and filed a complaint with the commission.

The CCHR investigation also uncovered additional discriminatory policies that prompted the commission to file additional charges on the city’s behalf for “pattern or practice” violations in February 2016.

Only accepting “diagnosis letters” from a physician and not granting accommodations to tenants with letters from treating clinicians, including psychologists, licensed master social workers, or physician’s assistants, violates the law, according to Hoy.

It is also unlawful to request medical information from tenants beyond what is necessary to grant an accommodation, including how long the physician has been treating the tenant, how long the tenant has been diagnosed with the medical issue, and how long they have had their dog.

Berrios testified that she “was dependent on this dog. She’s all I have. She keeps me relaxed. I take less medicine because of her.”

After management unlawfully denied her request for a reasonable accommodation to keep her dog, she told the commission she was physically ill and suffered heart palpitations. She said she didn’t know how she could go on without Brownie.

As a result Parkchester management has agreed to make changes to its policies, including:

• tenants asking for an accommodation to keep an emotional support animal will not be required to show that the animal assists with physical tasks such as getting dressed and walking.

• not deny requests because the tenant got an assistance animal before asking for a reasonable accommodation.

• not require people requesting accommodation to provide medical records or information about their disability beyond that which is minimally sufficient to demonstrate the relationship between the disability and the requested accommodation.

• accept notes from a range of health care providers, including treating licensed social workers, as corroboration of the need for reasonable accommodation.

• not require all assistance animals to complete behavioral training. They may require specific animals that have demonstrated behavioral issues to complete training.

• give residents the option of getting a tag for their assistance animal so that Parkchester security can see that the animal is permitted to be in the complex without having to stop the resident, thus diminishing harassment of residents by the security.

• provide notice of the policy to residents and staff by posting the policy in the buildings, on their website, and through mailings.

• have staff trained on the policy and the NYC Human Rights Law.

• change their policies and procedures to pause eviction proceedings based on the presence of an animal in order to allow for time for reasonable accommodation requests to be made and considered.

• be subject to monitoring by the commission. Keep records related to reasonable accommodations and assistance animals and provide them to commission upon request.

• provide notice of these policies to residents and staff by posting policies on their website, in buildings, mailing notices to residents, giving staff notice of policies and training supervisory, security, legal, and resident staff on the policies and the NYC Human Rights Law.

If you also have a dog that you have trained as your service dog, you may register your Service Dog and order your Service Dog license.

[h/t BX Times]