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Service Dog- A Reasonable Accomodation

By Lindy Korn, Esq.
Originally printed in Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine
January 2017

Some people with a disability may need a service dog as a reasonable accommodation, in housing where they reside. Many co-ops have policies that prohibit animals in the complex. What should someone do, if they need a service dog due to a condition that arises during the
term of residency?

Property management should be made aware of the need for a reasonable accommodation, and scheduling a meeting to discuss such accommodation is appropriate. A note from a treating physician explaining the need for the service dog is important since it provides a basis for understanding the need for an accommodation.

The property management committee may not think that an accommodation is needed and may threaten eviction. This may be the basis for disability discrimination. Establishing that a person has a disability and that the service animal is necessary in order for her to “enjoy” the residence and to lessen the symptoms of the disability, is required. Sometimes psychological documentation is helpful to establish the importance and right to have the accommodation.

For example, a woman who lives in a co-op had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Over time that condition worsened. She told the Board that she needed a service dog to assist with her symptoms and stress, and the dog caused her to move about more. Medical documentation was submitted. The Board denied the reasonable accommodation because the woman had lived in the co-op for many years without needing a “service dog”.

The American with Disabilities Act requires an “interactive” process when considering what is a reasonable accommodation. To avoid legal action, a person with a disability should present medical documentation and discuss what the law requires. The EEOC has a guidance for reasonable accommodation in housing – which can be found on the eeoc.gov website.

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