Condominiums Can be Required to Allow Emotional Support Animal as Reasonable Accommodation for Resident’s Disability

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) can require a condominium association to allow a resident to keep an emotional support dog as an accommodation for a disability even if the dog exceeds the association’s weight limit for pets.

Housing residents may be entitled to emotional support dog as reasonable accommodation for disability.K.P. and B.F. live at Players Place II, a condominium complex in New Jersey. Players Place II’s rules and regulations allow only pets under 30 pounds to live in its apartments.

The Association filed a lawsuit against K.P., claiming he violated its rules and regulations.  K.P. and B.F. filed a counterclaim alleging the Association violated the LAD by denying B.F. a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities.

At the trial, B.F.’s licensed clinical social worker testified that emotional support animal (“ESA”) can have “a huge benefit” for people diagnosed with mental health disorders since they can reduce their owner’s symptoms and improve their quality of life and ability to function, which is what B.F. experienced.  B.F.’s social worker and licensed clinical psychologist both testified that patients typically find ESAs on their own without a health care provider’s recommendation or prescription.  Among other things, B.F. testified that she had a larger dog when growing up, and smaller dogs do not provide her the same level of comfort as larger ones.

In contrast, the Association’s forensic psychologist testified there is no “scientific, medical, [or] psychological evidence” to support B.F.’s claim she needs a larger dog as an ESA, and B.F.’s previous psychiatrist has prescribed ESAs for other patients but never prescribed or recommended one for her.

The trial judge dismissed the claims under the LAD, concluding B.F. did not have a disability under the LAD. However, the judge allowed Luna to remain with B.F. because she helped alleviate her psychiatric conditions and there was no evidence she had been disruptive.

The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s ruling. Although it found B.F. is disabled within the meaning of the LAD, it found insufficient evidence that she needs a support dog that weighed more than 30 pounds because no medical professional had recommended or prescribed an ESA.

On March 13, 2024, in Players Place II Condominium Association, Inc. v. K.P., the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that an individual seeking an accommodation from her housing provider must show she has a disability under the LAD, and the accommodation is necessary to provide her “equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”  The Court made it clear the relevant question is whether the accommodation will enhance the resident’s quality of life by alleviating at least one symptom of her disability, not whether it will cure or eliminate her disability.

In doing so, the Supreme Court confirmed that B.F. has a disability within the meaning of the LAD. It also recognized that “ESAs can help people who struggle with mental health issues and other disabilities, and can enable them to function better in their everyday lives.” It also made it clear B.F. does not have to establish a specific need for a dog that exceeds the Association’s 30 pound weight limit.

The Supreme Court explained that housing providers can ask a resident to provide information confirming they have a disability and need an ESA, including a determination from a government agency or letter from a health care professional. However, the resident does not have a recommendation or prescription from a mental health professional, and the housing provider cannot require a medical examination.

If the resident meets her burden, then the housing provider has to prove the requested accommodation is unreasonable, meaning allowing an ESA would “fundamentally alter” its operations or impose an undue financial or administrative burden on it.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether Luna can continue to live with K.P. and B.F.

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