Phil and Julie are tenants living in a Los Angeles-area apartment along with their elementary-school-aged son Sam. Sam’s dog had resided with the family for over a year and helped him cope with the effects of his mental disability.
However, citing a no-pets rule, the landlord served them with a notice to remove the dog or quit the premises. The family removed their son’s companion dog out of fear of being evicted, but reported that their son exhibited signs of distress, including refusing to eat. The family then contacted the Housing Rights Center (HRC) for assistance due to their son’s worsening health.
The family provided HRC with a letter from their son’s doctor verifying the dog served as a medically prescribed companion animal to help ameliorate the effects of his disability. HRC sent a reasonable accommodation request letter to the property owner, the management company, and the on-site manager. Specifically, HRC requested that the property owner allow the family to keep their disabled son’s companion dog in their home without threat of eviction. Neither the property owner nor his agents responded to HRC’s accommodation request letter.
HRC filed a lawsuit in federal court against the landlord for failing to grant the family’s disability-related accommodation. The property owner did not respond to the lawsuit, and HRC filed a preliminary injunction to prevent the landlord from evicting the family. Shortly thereafter, HRC obtained a default judgment from court, thereby allowing the family to remain at the property and keep their son’s companion dog.
In the lawsuit, HRC argued that the owner's and management’s attempt to remove the companion dog would be in violation of state and federal rules that require a housing provider to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled tenants. See 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(b), Cal. Govt. Code § 12927(c)(1); Cal. Civ. Code § 54.1(b)(1). “A reasonable accommodation is a change in a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary to allow a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” HRC further relied on the rule that while landlords may generally prohibit pets in their apartment buildings, the fair housing laws and cases state that a disabled tenant who needs a guide dog or trained service animal or even an untrained companion animal is entitled to an exception from the no-pets policy. See 42 U.S.C. § 3604 (f)(3)(b); Cal. Gov’t Code §12955 ; Cal. Civil Code § 54.1; 24 C.F.R. § 100.204(b)(1) Example 1 (guide dog); See also Bronk v. Ineichen, 54 F.3d 425 (7th Cir. 1995); Majors v. Housing Authority of DeKalb, 652 F.2d 454, 458(5th Cir. 1981); Auburn Woods I Homeowners Association v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission, 121 Cal. App. 4th 1578 (California Third District Court of Appeal 2004).