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  • Jeremy Cohen

The Godfather and Emotional Support Animals

Reasonable Accommodations

In the first Godfather film we see Don Corleone at a roundtable meeting of the five families asking “When, when did I ever refuse an accommodation?” With that business sense he would be a very successful landlord or member of a condo board these days without having gone to court much. As attitudes and laws toward mental illness have modernized, people suffering from anxiety and depression are entitled to reasonable accommodations under the law.

For the mentally ill, a reasonable accommodation can mean being able to have an emotional support animal (ESA) to help relieve their symptoms. The law, known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA) applies to people who rent an apartment or own a unit within a housing association. It is our government’s way of assuring that all people can peacefully enjoy their living space.

Initially the person with the illness (referred to as a mental disability) needs to obtain a note from a treating physician which evidences the illness and the need for an ESA. There are other requirements as well and some landlords have applications to complete. What we are seeing at the firm are clients who are being denied the reasonable accommodation of being allowed to have an ESA. The problem is that lots of landlords and housing associations only learn about the law when they break it.

An example of a reasonable accommodation under the FHA would be when a tenant with a disability asks a landlord to make a change in an existing rule or policy so they have an equal opportunity to enjoy the use of their residence. With a dog it would be where, despite there being a ‘no pets’ policy in place, a person asks to have an ESA. And remember that these animals are not pets so that policy and any pet fees, does not apply.

In order to qualify for reasonable accommodations due to disability, the tenant must meet the following conditions as defined by the FHA:

1. Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, seeing, working, cleaning, dressing, sleeping, hearing, etc.);

2. Have a history of such impairments;

3. Be regarded as having such impairments (a physician’s note).

We won the case of Milo (9 lbs.) our client’s documented ESA even the condo board where he lives has been trying to evict him for 2 years. They refused to make a reasonable accommodation and their lawyer stated that most people with depression should not be entitled to an ESA. They are if they become a client of Boston Dog Lawyers!


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