Sarah is a tenant in Santa Monica, California. She has been diagnosed with an acute anxiety disorder and she learned that a companion animal such as a dog or a cat could help ameliorate her anxiety. However, her 32 unit apartment complex had a no-pets policy and to her knowledge no other tenant had a pet.
She asked the onsite manager whether she could get an exception to the no-pets policy. The manager said that only trained guide dogs for tenants who are blind would be considered for an exception. Sarah called the City Attorney’s office’s Consumer Protection Unit which advised her to get a letter from her treating physician that briefly confirms the tenant’s need for a companion animal to ease the symptoms of a disability.
After the letter from Sarah’s doctor was sent to the property and manager, a deputy city attorney contacted the manager and then the owner’s attorney. The deputy city attorney explained that like guide dogs, companion animals are also covered by the fair housing laws. The owner’s attorney eventually agreed. Even though the owner and manager has a no-pets policy and even though the future companion animal may not have any training, the request for a reasonable accommodation to the no-pets policy was allowed.
Sarah and the City Attorney’s office relied on the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to argue that her request for a reasonable accommodation be approved. 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).