“Love me, love my dog.” Unfortunately, many landlords, condominium associations and other rule issuing bodies associated with housing do not share this sentiment. They prohibit dogs and often other pets. Fortunately, some pet lovers are entitled to keep their pets despite a ban.
The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), and state counterparts like California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), protects the rights of those with a disability to keep a pet despite “no pets” policies. “Disability” is defined broadly under anti-discrimination laws.
The disabled are those persons who are physically as well as mentally impaired and whose major life activities, whether physical, mental, social or work related ones, are made more difficult by their condition. Depression is recognized as a disability.
The Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) enforces the FHA by referring complaints to agencies in states whose anti-discrimination laws are “substantially equivalent” to the FHA. Eleven states lack such laws while thirty-nine, including California, fall in this category, so it is instructive to see how the Golden State protects the rights of the disabled.
Governmental involvement begins with the pet owner filing a complaint with the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC). If it determines the complaint is legitimate, and if its efforts to assist the parties to reach an acceptable solution fail, the Commission gathers facts by the use of subpoenas, depositions and interrogatories.
If this investigation shows a violation of the law, and assuming a conciliation conference does not resolve the situation, the case may be litigated before the FEHC or in the civil courts based on the option of the parties. All of these actions are taken by the FEHC without cost to the person who filed the complaint.
The remedies the FEHC or the court can order include out of pocket losses, access to the housing previously denied, an injunction requiring that the pet be allowed on the premises, and civil penalties or punitive damages. And, if an attorney retained by the pet owner participates in the case attorney’s fees may be awarded.
A detailed description of the complaint process at the federal level can be found at http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/complaint-process.cfm. An equally detailed description of the process followed at a state level, including a link to a video on the rights of the disabled to pets and other accommodations in housing, can be found at http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/DFEH/Complaints/FAQ.aspx .
Filing a complaint may not be necessary. Explain your situation to those who issued the “no pets” rule and show your willingness to accept reasonable restrictions. If an exception to the pet ban is not made, file a complaint with HUD or the governmental agency in your state that deals with housing discrimination.
Faced with the time and expense of governmental action, most decision makers may not come to love your dog or other pet but they will make an exception to their “no pets” ban. It’s really not important, after all, that they love your pet, only that they allow you to do so.