WHAT'S THE LAW?
Dialogue needed on tenant pet request
: I have a tenant who insists that his pet rabbit is needed for his disability and that I must allow him to have one in his apartment despite the "no pet" clause of his lease. Is this true?
Answer: From Legal Aid's fair housing unit: What this tenant might be asking for is a "reasonable accommodation." This is a change in rules or policies that allows a disabled person to enjoy their unit to the same extent and in the same way as a nondisabled person. If this is the case, then the animal would no longer be considered a "pet," but rather a "service" or "companion" animal. Requesting an accommodation should involve a process of negotiation in which the following questions are addressed: 1) Does the person have a disability? 2) Is the request related to the disability? 3) Is the request reasonable? The landlord might argue that an accommodation causes an "undue financial or administrative burden" and therefore is unreasonable. Also considered would be health and safety codes and the safety and quiet enjoyment of the other tenants. Is there a less burdensome alternative that still accommodates the person's disability? In applying these tests to the question of the rabbit, it is clear that more information is needed.
What is the person's disability, and how will a rabbit help it? Perhaps it is reasonable to have one rabbit, kept in a clean cage, but it might be unreasonable to request more than one rabbit or to allow them to run freely about the apartment reproducing. Remember that all requests for reasonable accommodations must be seriously considered by the landlord or property manager, but they do not need to be automatically granted if they do not meet the above conditions. The important thing is that there is dialogue and negotiation between both parties in an attempt to find a solution that accommodates the person with the disability.
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii operates statewide. Practice areas include housing, public benefits, consumer and family law but not criminal law. For information, call 536-4302. Submit questions by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
or by U.S. mail to Legal Aid Q&A, 924 Bethel St., Honolulu, HI 96813.