Landlords have no-pet policies. Tenants want to have pets. To get around the landlord’s no-pet policies, tenants claim their pet is really an “emotional support animal” necessary to assist the tenant’s purported mental disability. In reality, the tenant has no disability, the pet isn’t an emotional support animal (it’s just a pet) and the tenant simply wants to avoid the landlord’s no pet policy.
For years, landlords were required to allow everything from emotional support cats, dogs, and hamsters to emotional support squirrels, sugar gliders (a type of squirrel), pigs, and peacocks in their property. Many times, the tenant would even claim that more than one emotional support animal was necessary. If the landlord didn’t acquiesce, the landlord feared being sued under one of the many federal, state, and local laws protecting actual disabilities.
This problem finally became too great to ignore, and now Illinois has passed the Assistance Animal Integrity Act. Among other things, the Act allows a landlord to request reliable documentation of the disability and disability-related need for the animal, but only if the disability or disability-related need is not readily apparent or known to the housing provider. If the initial documentation is insufficient, the landlord can request certain additional information.
Additionally, a reasonable accommodation request under the Fair Housing Act or Illinois Human Rights Act for an assistance animal must (1) be in writing; (2) be made by a person with whom the individual requesting an accommodation has a therapeutic relationship; and (3) describe the individual’s disability related need for the assistance animal. If more than one animal is claimed necessary, the landlord can require that the tenant produce documentation showing that each animal is necessary.
Landlords can deny assistance animal requests for a variety of reasons, including that the accommodation imposes an undue financial and administrative burden or a fundamental alteration to the nature of the operations of the housing provider. Landlords can also deny such requests if reliable evidence demonstrates that the assistance animal has, or will have, behavioral problems. And, of course, if the tenant can’t establish that he has a therapeutic relationship with the healthcare provider or fails to describe the disability-related need for the assistance animal, the landlord can deny the request.
The law will take effect on January 1, 2020.
This brief description of the Act should not be relied on to take, or refrain from taking, any legal action. Consult your attorney for how the Act may apply to your particular situation.