Federal Court Rules that Applicant May Request Reasonable Accommodation on Behalf of Roommate

In McClendon v. Bresler, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court decision that statements made in an email by a rental co-applicant to an apartment owner supporting the need for a reasonable accommodation (a support animal) suffice as a request for a reasonable accommodation and that the co-applicant had standing to sue for the landlord’s refusal to grant the accommodation.

The landlord had a “no dogs” policy and would not waive it for an assistance animal. The applicant presented evidence that her dog was verified as a support animal and requested the accommodation.

To succeed in a reasonable accommodation fair housing claim, a plaintiff must prove: (1) plaintiff has a disability; (2) the defendant knew or reasonably should have known of the disability; (3) an accommodation may be necessary to afford the disabled person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling (4) the requested accommodation is reasonable, and (5) the defendant refused to make the requested accommodation. In this case, only number 2 was in dispute.

When the roommate informed the landlord via email that the applicant had a “verified support animal,” used the terms “reasonable accommodation, ”and “discrimination,” the landlord was notified of the potential disability. As to whether the claim could be brought by the roommate and not the disabled applicant, the court stated that the FHA permits any “aggrieved person” who “claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice” to bring a housing discrimination suit.” The co-applicant was equally harmed by the denial of the reasonable accommodation.

Bottom Line: This case serves as a reminder that requests for reasonable accommodations do not have to be made by a disabled person. The request may be made by someone acting on behalf of that person. In addition, action against housing providers who refuse to grant needed reasonable accommodations may be brought by anyone who is harmed by the landlord’s action – even if it is not the disabled person.