Tenant's service dog and emotional support dog allowed to stay

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Their owner, Ashley, who didn't want to use her last name to protect the privacy of her military husband, said her two rescue dogs have made a real difference in her life.

She said Brenda became her service dog five years ago, while Anna gives her emotional support.

Ashley said both are medically approved to help ease her depression, anxiety and PTSD from trauma she suffered as a child.

But Ashley said she went round and round with her apartment manager over the proof documenting the necessity of having both dogs.

"This is the first time I've ever run into a problem," she said.

Ashley said, "We'd given them Anna's three times before. We didn't have to give them Brenda's because they already had it."

She said the manager had a change in heart Wednesday, allowing both of her dogs to stay.

David Fritsche, an attorney representing the apartment management, said he could not discuss specific issues related to any tenant.

But in his statement, Fritsche said, "It is not a violation of the Fair Housing Act to request reliable information of a disability that is not apparent."

Still, Ashley said, "I'm glad they finally understood that it was against the law what they were doing."

Dogs like Ashley's are covered under state and federal mandates, including the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

William McKamie, a board certified attorney, said too often rental property owners and managers are not aware of what those laws require.

McKamie said, for instance, that unlike service dogs, those for emotional support are a different breed under the law.

"Enforcement agencies under the state statute and the Fair Housing Act encourage accommodations of comfort animals as well," McKamie said.

But he said the laws are not "carte blanche to do whatever you want to have your animal accepted."

McKamie said the laws call for "reasonable accommodations" with proof of medical necessity, especially if the problem is not a physical disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which is common in a military city like San Antonio.

He said animals like Brenda and Anna are allowed to stay with their owners without a pet deposit.

Ashley said the charge for a deposit was removed by the management.

But she said, "I never did get an apology or yes, we're sorry, and that's what upset me the most."

Ashley said her advice for others, "Know the law. Make sure you have your paperwork."

 

The following is a statement from Attorney David Fritsche:

Landlords are bound by the provisions of the Fair Housing Act, which include considering requests for accommodations or to allow modifications to allow a person who is disabled to use and enjoy the property.  A disability may be apparent or previously verified, or a disability may not be apparent.

If a disability is not apparent, a landlord is entitled to reliable verification that a person is disabled as that term is defined under the Fair Housing Act; specifically, having "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities."  It is not a violation of the Fair Housing Act for a landlord to request reliable verification of a disability that is not apparent.  In addition the requirement for verification of a non-apparent disability, there must be a nexus, or interrelationship, between the accommodation (or modification) requested and disability-related need.  Until a landlord is provided with reliable verification of a disability that is not apparent and the nexus, the accommodation or modification should not be granted; the landlord may always request additional verification and should do so in an effort to accommodate the person.  Because the verification requirements under the Fair Housing Act are very specific for tenants and landlords, landlords should endeavor to ensure that all persons making requests for accommodation or to allow modifications meet the requirements of the Fair Housing Act to ensure fairness to all tenants, whether disabled or not, and the landlord.

Finally, all adult residents must generally sign a lease; if a tenant has an authorized pet or an assistive animal, the tenant should also sign an Animal Addendum that requires that the tenant clean up after the animal and properly restrain the animal in common areas.  Until a lease is signed by an adult resident, the resident is not authorized; similarly, until an Animal Addendum is signed by a person with an authorized pet or assistive animal, the pet or assistive animal is not authorized.  In a situation where a person has an appropriately verified assistive animal, the landlord will waive "pet rent" or a "pet deposit" in the Animal Addendum because of the provisions of the Fair Housing Act.  Tenants with pets or assistive animals always remain liable for any damages that an animal causes. 

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