I had a different Fair Housing Defense blog entry ready for today, but it will wait until next month. I got a call this morning from a lawyer in Michigan who, like me, represents professional apartment management companies. His clients face many of the same issues surrounding reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications that mine work to resolve. From time to time we share stories and review issues of interest to lawyers working to prevent housing discrimination claims. Today we talked about service animals who assist our disabled residents.
I have written many times in this space that service or companion animals are not limited to dogs, although dogs are by far the most common animal used by our residents. I have seen reasonable accommodation requests seeking approvals for a variety of other animals – but today’s request was one for the books: a resident at an apartment community in Michigan (who is pregnant and who has another young child) submitted a reasonable accommodation request to keep her 32 pound boa constrictor as a companion animal. That is a new one on me.
First, I look forward to the medical verification confirming the nexus between the resident’s disability and the snake. At first glance, I don’t see it. While most management companies do not keep medical professionals on staff, that verification might indeed be one to take a closer look at. Next, while the reasonable accommodation regulations are clear that management cannot reject a companion animal solely because it is a specific breed or based on a generalized fear – I would have a real concern that a 32 pound boa constrictor would indeed cause a direct threat to the other residents (including children) and the leasing office team. I would be willing to bet that if another resident has seen the snake, he or she would be legitimately afraid of it. I know many parents of young children would similarly have a legitimate fear about a boa constrictor living next door.
Again, while management absolutely has the responsibility to engage in the interactive process with every resident who seeks a companion animal, we have the same responsibility to all of our residents to do our best to provide housing that is safe and free from danger. A 32 pound boa constrictor around young kids in an apartment community as a companion animal? Fair to say I am just a bit skeptical. I will report back as I learn more here. In the interim, I now have a new example for my next fair housing training seminar.
Just A Thought.