I suffer from diabetes. I've gradually lost my sight over the last several years, and I'm now legally blind. A couple of months ago, I obtained Jackie, a fully trained, certified guide dog who I've come to depend on very heavily.
The apartment building I've lived in for several years has a strict "no pets" policy. When the landlord found out about Jackie, he told me that if I kept my guide dog, my lease would not be renewed when it expires at the end of next month. I offered to keep Jackie inside and do whatever else was reasonably necessary to minimize any inconvenience to the other tenants, but he said that wasn't enough.
I can't get rid of my wonderful Jackie ... I need him... but I don't want to move. Do I have any legal rights?
Need My Guide
Based on these facts, it's likely that you have a number of protections available to you under the federal, state, and local laws designed to protect disabled persons from housing discrimination.
Building owners may be required to relax a 'no pets' policy.
One of these laws is the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA), which generally prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of dwellings based on a person's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or disability.
The FFHA states "it shall be unlawful to discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of that buyer or renter." Also, the FFHA defines discrimination to include an owner or building manager's refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules or policies to provide a handicapped person with the "equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling."
The FFHA regulations include the following example of the "reasonable accommodations" in rules or policies that may be required when renting to a handicapped person:
"A blind applicant for rental housing wants to live in a dwelling unit with a seeing-eye dog. The building has a 'no pets' policy. It is a violation ... for the owner or manager of the apartment complex to refuse to permit the applicant to live in the apartment with a seeing-eye dog because, without the seeing-eye dog, the blind person will not have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling."
Equal Opportunity Living
In other words, building owners or managers may be required to relax a "no pets" policy for a disabled person who uses a guide dog, as a "reasonable accommodation" to avoid unlawful discrimination.
Additionally, many states and cities have their own laws that prohibit housing discrimination against disabled persons. For example, there is a California statute that prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to blind or deaf persons who use the services of a guide dog or signal dog.
You can obtain further information on the FFHA from your local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), or at the HUD's Web site: www.hud.gov. Your local state or municipal government offices can provide information and assistance regarding the state or local antidiscrimination laws that may apply to your situation.
About the Author: Steve Skacevic provides timely information concerning pet legal issues in the Pets Attorney column, an exclusive feature found only on Pets.com. Steve is a partner in a Los Angeles law firm where he specializes in litigation and business transactions. A longtime pet owner and pet lover, Steve is a graduate of the Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, California, and the University of California, Irvine. A former literary editor of the Pepperdine Law Review, Steve is able to combine his passion for pets, writing, and the law in the Pets Attorney column. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Margo, a computer network applications consultant, and their two cats, Gigabyte (also known as Giggy) and Gus (also known as Googie).
Important note: The information provided here is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Attorney Steve Skacevic is not engaged in providing legal advice or services via Pets.com. All content is only general legal information. It is not specific to your pet and is intended only to facilitate communication between you and your own attorney. Always consult your own attorney for specific legal advice concerning your own pet or animal. You should not rely on the information, products, or services on Pets.com in lieu of consultation with your own veterinarian or attorney. The questions answered by the Pets Attorney in this column are inspired by actual questions submitted by Pets.com visitors. The Pets Attorney receives a large volume of correspondence; we regret that he cannot respond personally to your questions.
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