Kids + Pets

A request for a service animal in a pet-free building: 3 steps to take

By Lucy Cohen Blatter  | July 22, 2014 - 11:59AM

Even if your building bans pets, you may have to bend the rules for an apartment dweller with a mental or physical disability, from cancer to blindness to anxiety. Federal, state and city laws require that building owners and landlords accommodate tenants who need service animals, even for emotional support.

If you're dealing with this kind of request, there are a few steps to take, according to co-op and condo lawyers Ken Jacobs and Jennifer Stewart, who outline the process in a video on Habitat Magazine:

1. Accept that it's legit. First, realize that this is a request for reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. It’s considered an act of discrimination to deny a person with a disability the support that they need, and that's a charge your board--and your board's lawyer--do not want to come up against.

2. Ask for a note. You should "engage in an interactive process," the lawyers say. Ask for medical information from a psychiatrist or a physician treating the symptoms that explains what the disability is and how the dog will help. If you doubt the legitimacy of the claim, you might want to consider consulting an expert at board expense. If not, get ready for Fido to move in.

3. Establish a policy with reasonable rules. To protect the board and the building, you can establish restrictions on the animal, like limiting a service dog to the service elevator or requiring its owner to pick up after it. You might also want to create a policy (like this one) so that next time someone asks, you'll have all your ducks (or dogs, as the case may be) in a row.


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