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Association of Apartment Owners of Liliuokalani Gardens at Waikiki v. Taylor

Association of Apartment Owners of Liliuokalani Gardens at Waikiki v. Taylor, U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124418 (Aug. 31, 2012)
Issue:  When a landlord has a no-pets policy and a tenant with an animal assistant asks for the policy to be waived, what does the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) require?

Facts:  Taylor leased an apartment at Liluokalani Gardens, which had a no pets policy, but he entered into his rental agreement on the condition he be allowed to keep his dog as an accommodation. Taylor provided information from his doctor, including that he suffered from agoraphobia and social phobias that called for a dog to assist him. The association asserted this did not provide sufficient information to establish how his dog was a necessary accommodation, and there was no indication the dog had any training as a service or assistance animal. A key decision, Prindable v. Association of Apartment Owners, 304 F. Supp. 2d 1245, held the FHA required specialized training for an assistance animal. The party’s arguments and the court’s analysis revolved around whether Prindable was still good law.
Outcome: The court concluded the FHA allows disabled persons to secure an accommodation for not only trained “service animals,” but also “assistance animals,” which do not need specialized training to perform specific disability-related tasks. This includes “emotional support animals” for non-physical disabilities. The court found that Prindable did not require training before a dog could be considered the basis of a viable request for an accommodation.
The court determined there is a difference between “service animals” and “assistance animals,” and the FHA included both as reasonable accommodations. The first step of the analysis is to examine the individual’s medical condition and determine whether it is a disability. If so, it is then necessary to determine what is needed to alleviate the effects of that disability. The next step is to determine if the requested accommodation, i.e., an untrained assistance animal, is necessary to afford the disabled person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. If so, the housing provider must grant the requested accommodation. The court denied both parties summary judgment motions and summarized its decision as follows:
“In some instances, a plaintiff may have a disability that requires an assistance animal with some type of training; in other instances, it may be possible that no training is necessary. *** (T)his analysis ensures that only those with proper disabilities are afforded accommodations such as assistance animals; it will not *** result in everyone who wants a pet being afforded an assistance animal ***. (B)ecause the animal must alleviate the disability, only those with disabilities will be afforded this accommodation.”
Legal Significance: This case rejects the idea that a disabled person only has the right to an accommodation of a trained service animal. Training or lack thereof is a factor to consider, but lack of training does not mean victory for the landlord. This case reinforces that disability/failure to accommodate cases are very fact-intensive and must be decided on a case-by-case basis. It’s necessary to analyze the disability, what is needed to ameliorate that disability, and whether the requested accommodation is necessary.