Thursday, May 31, 2012

S.D. Fla. Holds that Fair Housing Act Requires Allowing Emotional Support Animals as a Reasonable Accommodation

Earlier this week, Judge James I. Cohn of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment in Falin v. Condominium Association of La Mer Estates, Inc., 2012 WL 1910021 (S.D. Fla., May 28, 2012).  The plaintiff claimed that the condo association violated the Fair Housing Act when it refused to waive its no-pet policy for his mother, who has a disability and uses an emotional support dog.  The association moved for summary judgment.  Among other things, it argued that the FHA does not require the accommodation of emotional support animals.  The court rejected that argument:
Defendants first point out that Ms. Falin's dog is not a “service animal” that is trained to perform a specific task, such as helping guide a blind person or recognizing the onset of seizures. Indeed, the record shows conclusively that the dog has no such training but instead serves as an “emotional-support animal” for Ms. Falin. This fact, however, is not dispositive of Plaintiff's claim. Some courts, looking to regulations promulgated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, have held that only a trained service animal may qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the FHA. See, e.g., Prindable v. Ass'n of Apartment Owners of 2987 Kalakaua, 304 F.Supp.2d 1245, 1256–57 (D.Haw.2003), aff'd on other grounds sub nom.,Dubois v. Ass'n of Apartment Owners of 2987 Kalakaua, 453 F.3d 1175 (9th Cir.2006). But more recent decisions, recognizing that the FHA and its implementing regulations include no such training requirement, have concluded that an emotional-support animal may be a reasonable accommodation under the FHA when the animal is necessary for a disabled person to enjoy equal housing rights. See, e.g., Fair Housing of the Dakotas, Inc. v. Goldmark Prop. Mgmt., Inc.,778 F.Supp.2d 1028, 1035–36 (D.N.D.2011); Overlook Mut. Homes, Inc. v. Spencer, 666 F.Supp.2d 850, 858–61 (S.D.Ohio 2009); cf. Majors v. Hous. Auth. of DeKalb Cnty., 652 F.2d 454, 457–58 (5th Cir. Unit B Aug.1981) (reversing grant of summary judgment to housing authority on Rehabilitation Act claim concerning disabled person's emotional-support animal, and remanding for trial on factual issues). This Court finds the latter decisions more persuasive and adopts their reasoning here. Accordingly, the fact that Ms. Falin's dog is an emotional-support animal, rather than a trained service animal, does not entitle Defendants to summary judgment.

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