A recently decided Indiana case once again makes it clear that landlords have the right to request certain information to determine that an accommodation request for a disabled person is both reasonable and necessary due to the disability of the applicant or resident.
In Furbee v. Wilson, 2020 Ind.App. LEXIS 122, March 2020), the court ruled in favor the landlord with regard to the request for an assistance animal.
Facts of the Case
- Despite a community’s no pet policy, a resident requested to have a cat as a support animal.
- The resident provided a letter from a licensed therapist stating that the resident was disabled and needed an emotional support animal to alleviate her symptoms.
- The letter did not identify any disability or symptoms.
- The community requested more information from the resident, which the resident failed to provide.
- The resident brought the cat into the unit and was evicted for doing so.
- The resident filed a complaint with the state civil rights commission, which sued the community for failing to accommodate the resident’s request for the support animal in violation of state fair housing law.
- The community requested judgment without trial which was refused by the court.
- The community appealed.
In March 2020, the Indiana appeals court reversed the lower court, ruling that the fair housing case against the community should be dismissed.
- Fair housing law does not require that housing providers immediately grant all accommodation requests.
- Before a community can decide on a resident’s request for accommodation, it is entitled to conduct a “meaningful review” to determine whether the accommodation is required.
- This review may include requesting documentation and opening a dialogue (the “interactive process.”)
- In this case, the community requested more information, but the resident did not respond.
- By not providing the community with information about her disability and disability-related need for the accommodation, the resident caused a breakdown in the process.
- Without this basic information, the community could not conduct a complete review of the resident’s request for the support animal.
- Based on this, the court stated that the community was entitled to judgment without trial.
While owners must grant reasonable accommodations to disabled residents when necessary for the resident to have full use and enjoyment of the property, and it is reasonable to do so, owners do have the right to request additional information when the need for the accommodation is not obvious. In this case, while the therapist did state that the resident was disabled and an animal could ease the symptoms of the disability, the letter did not identify any disability. In this case, since the landlord was unaware of the tenant’s disability, it had the right to request more information demonstrating a clear relationship between the disability and the need for the accommodation – i.e. the support animal. The overriding issue in this decision was the failure of the tenant to participate in the interactive process, thus creating a “breakdown in the process.”
Based on the facts, this case could have gone either way, but it does indicate that landlords have the right to request the information needed to make an informed decision as to whether or not to grant an accommodation.