A Landlord Cannot Force you to Declaw your Emotional Support Cat or Charge you a Cleaning Deposit for your Emotional Support Dog!

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            For a person with depression and anxiety, an emotional support animal provides the impetus to wake up in the morning and go to school or work.  For Austin Cline, a student at Hillsborough Community College, Luna, his dog, gives him the ability to leave his parents house, go to college and then go to his job.   For years, Austin lived with chronic depression and anxiety.  He tried exercise, diet and medication, but was not doing well.  Austin researched and discussed an emotional support animal with his psychologist as part of his treatment, and she prescribed the emotional support animal for him.

            At Hillsborough Community College, Austin lives in a dormitory-style apartment that does not allow pets.  However, Austin did research on the internet and knew that he had rights under the Fair Housing Act to have an Emotional Support Animal as a modification of the no-pets rules to accommodate his disability.  The dorm-style apartment is managed by Peak Campus Management, and Peak Campus Management operates dozens of dormitory apartments with thousands of tenants across the country.

 

While Peak Campus Management allows emotional support and service animals, it promulgates rules and regulations for those animals which either surcharge an animal owner for having an animal, or it limits the animal users’ use and enjoyment of the premises. Under the Fair Housing Act, rules, policies, or practices must be modified to permit the use of an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation in housing when its use may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and the common areas of a dwelling. For all the rules, see Peak Service Animal Rules.

  1. A Landlord cannot preemptively charge cleaning fees, animal fees, or deodorizing fees merely because someone has an assistance animal

A Landlord may not require a tenant to pay a fee or a security deposit as a condition of allowing an assistance animal. However, if a tenant’s assistance animal causes damage to the tenant’s unit or the common areas of the apartment, the landlord may charge the tenant for the cost of repairing the damage or deduct it from the standard security deposit imposed on all tenants.

  1. A Landlord cannot demand that a cat be declawed!

It is cruel to require that all cats that are emotional support animals be declawed.  Declawing is a process in which is a process where a cat’s claw, the bone, nerve,austin-cats-claw joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated.  In human terms, it is similar to cutting off of a person’s finger at the last joint of each finger.  Again, if the cat damages furniture, the tenant would be responsible for the damage.  Having a rule which requires a person to mutilate their cat that he or she needs for depression would certainly dissuade a person with a disability from even moving into the facility.

  1. A Landlord cannot require a person with a disability to get the approval of other roommates or tenants.

The only defense to denying an assistance animal is whether the animal would pose a direct threat to others.  While some people may have allergies or other reasons that a person does not want to live with or near an animal, the remedy is to switch roommates, rather than having an accommodation dependent on another person’s desires.

  1. A Landlord cannot require that the dog must always be attended to by its owner.

A person that has an emotional support animal does not have their animal with them at all times.  Emotional support animals are not service animals and are not permitted in public accommodations, schools or other governmental facilities.  Rules that require than an animal cannot be left unattended on the premises, and even in their apartments and rooms unattended require the person with a disability to be isolated.

  1. A Landlord cannot require that a resident indemnify and hold the landlord harmless for all claims, including paying for the landlord’s fees and costs.

No matter how a surcharge is worded, cleaning fees, agreement to indemnify and hold harmless, releases, or any other way or method which dissuades a person from having an accommodation are prohibited.  For housing providers that allow pets, conditions and restrictions that housing providers apply to pets may not be applied to assistance animals.  For housing providers that do not allow pets, a housing provider cannot create new conditions and restrictions on persons who have assistance animals, other than the animal cannot be a direct threat to the health and safety of others and that they are responsible for the damages that their animals have caused.

  1. A landlord cannot limit the use and enjoyment of any portion of the premises with the dog, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other residents.

Under the Fair Housing Act, a person with a disability is entitled to an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and the common areas of a dwelling.  This includes the common areas of the apartment, going into friends units with the dog, or even having a person visit who has a dog or cat that is an assistance animal.  In as much as a landlord cannot prevent a person who is blind with a guide dog from visiting a person who lives in a no-pets building, a landlord cannot prevent a person with an assistance animal from visiting a tenant.

For more information, please see

Disability Independence Group, Inc.’s Assistance Animal Page

Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA | PDF This eight-page document provides guidance and answers questions about the ADA’s service animal provisions.

Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals PDF This publication provides guidance on the term “service animal” and the service animal provisions in the Department’s new regulations.

Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs” Department of Housing and Urban Development guidance on how the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intersect regarding the use of service or assistance animals by persons with disabilities.

The Cuddle Effect

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By: Matthew Dietz

fluffy orange cat named Cuddles
Cuddles, the Persian cat, was worth a million dollars to Izak Teller and his wife, Barbara. Because of Cuddles, they were rejected from the ability to live in a fully renovated unit overlooking the Intercostal in Palm Beach, and bought a less desirable unit that they were required to renovate. The matter settled, and the Tellers received a settlement of $275,000 to vindicate their rights under the Fair Housing Act. This equates to an amount that is worth twice of Cuddles’ weight in gold.

Cuddles was Barbara’s emotional support animal. For over 20 years, Barbara suffered from spinal injury which caused her extreme pain and limited her mobility. This caused her significant pain, depression and anxiety. She found that having Cuddles reduced her anxiety and depression, and lessened her reliance on psychotropic medication. In 2011, Izak Teller was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer, and while recovery from stage three cancer is difficult, with the support of Cuddles, Izak pulled through and was cured.

In 2011, Izak and Barbara wanted to live at the Cove, a luxury apartment in Palm Beach. The apartment was fully renovated and move-in ready, with a cabana. It was the deal of a lifetime and too good to pass up, but it had a no pets rule. Izak and Barbara contracted for the apartment and advised the condominium association, as they had done in previous apartments, that Cuddles was Barbara’s support animal, and permitted under the Fair Housing Act. Cuddles did not leave the apartment, and as demonstrated above, slept for much of the day. He was a house cat.

However, an owner, an attorney from New York, who lived on the same floor said no. She did not want Cuddles, and since she was allergic to cats, if Cuddles was allowed to move in, then she was going to sue. The Cove Condominium Association was in a difficult position – between a cat and a New York lawyer. The condominium sided with their resident under threat of a lawsuit and said no to the Tellers. The Tellers lost the deal and bought a condominium without a cabana in Palm Beach, and spent a considerable sum renovating the condominium. Izak Teller did much of the renovation himself, despite being treated for stage four cancer, but they still were with Cuddles.

While the Cove was in an unenviable position – between a house cat and a New York lawyer— the Fair Housing Act requires a housing provider to make reasonable accommodations in no pet rules when it is necessary to afford the person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. The only defense a housing provider can have is if the accommodation would be a fundamental alteration of the housing provider’s programs or services or if it would be an undue financial or administrative burden. There is no determination of whether the housing provider intentionally discriminated based on the person’s disability.

The neighbor who threatened to sue admitted to exposing herself to cats, cat dander and cat hair when she visits a friend’s apartment and when a friend who owns a cat visits her in her home. The neighbor takes an antihistamine which alleviates her symptoms and she has not had adverse side effects. As such, Cuddles the Cat would not have an undue burden to her or any other resident of the Cove Association. However, even if the neighbor was highly allergic to cats, the Tellers explained that Cuddles is a house cat, and that because each apartment had an individual air condition unit that is separate from the building air conditioning, the cat hair or dander would not affect any other tenant. Further, the cat will be brought to the unit in a closed carry case and will stay in the unit with Mrs. Teller; and any allergist would not be able to testify with reasonable medical certainty that the board member’s allergies could be affected under these circumstances.

On or about February 28, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity (“OEO”) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) related to this matter. On October 26, 2013, the Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity and HUD issued a finding of Cause against The Cove. Subsequently, the Disability Independence Group, and the law offices of Herb M. Milgrim. P.A. brought an action on behalf of the Tellers in Palm Beach Circuit and obtained a $275,000 settlement through mediation.

In November, Cuddles passed away after her own illness, and he will be fondly remembered by all who knew her.

Why

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“Why?” is the most common question asked when I said that I was going to  change my practice into a non-profit disability rights advocacy center. My reasons are each and every person with a disability that I have represented over the past eighteen years. With every single person, the issue was not about money, but about the dignity of being a human being, and having the same ability to enjoy life as any other person. Even when I was not successful, I was always able to give my clients the power and dignity to fight for their equality and humanity.
This is a new era where people with disabilities eschew labels and demand their rights. Those who are Deaf or who have vision impairments demand equal access to information, those with depression and anxiety demand emotional support animals, those with disabilities demand the right to have their own families
and make their own decisions regarding independent living, and those with learning disabilities demand testing and course accommodations. Disability Independence Group or DIG is an invitation for persons with disabilities to declare their independence from antiquated notions of a second class existence.
Disability Independence Group will be a center where people with disabilities can learn how to enforce their rights and a training center for future lawyers to learn how to enforce the rights of persons with disabilities. It will advocate for a definition of diversity and integration that includes persons with disabilities. DIG will be a hub for the growing internationalization of disability
rights in Central and South America. We have a big job and big dreams. Matt Dietz with Parrot