Resident Didn't Prove Need for Emotional Support Animal
Facts: For her entire life, a resident has lived in a subsidized apartment. Her mother, the previous leaseholder, kept a dog in the apartment prior to her death in August 2013. After her mother’s passing, the resident obtained legal guardianship over four of her nieces and nephews, who also were living in the apartment.
The resident subsequently signed a new model lease with the owner. This lease included a clause prohibiting the resident from keeping dogs on the property. The resident was aware that the lease didn’t permit her to keep a dog in the apartment when she signed it, but nevertheless thought it was acceptable to keep the dog because her mother had done so. On the basis of this fact, the resident believed that the owner wouldn’t enforce the pet restriction and, accordingly, continued to keep the dog in her apartment in violation of her lease.
The owner sent a pre-termination notice advising her that she had violated her lease by keeping a dog in her apartment. In June 2015, the owner served a notice to quit on the resident and subsequently filed an eviction action. The resident then filed a special defense, alleging that the dog had been in the apartment for more than six years and that the owner had acted unreasonably by giving her 15 days to remove the dog from the apartment.
At trial, the owner testified that, although no one living in the apartment suffered from a disability, she kept the dog to provide emotional support for her niece, who was dealing with certain personal losses. In support of this claim, she submitted a letter from the niece’s physician and social worker indicating that the dog provided comfort to the niece, as well as a certificate from the Internet declaring the dog to be an “Emotional Support Dog.”
The trial court admitted both of these documents into evidence over the owner’s objections. The trial court ultimately concluded that the resident had established that the dog was therapeutic to the niece and that the resident had followed the spirit of the federal regulations concerning accommodations for handicapped persons. The trial court ruled in favor of the resident, and the owner appealed.
Ruling: A Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the lower court abused its discretion by relying upon the spirit of federal regulations in determining that the resident was entitled to keep her apartment. There was no evidence in the record demonstrating that a resident of the apartment had a physical or mental disability affecting a major life activity as required by the federal regulations. And the court concluded that the lower court could not have reasonably concluded that the resident satisfied the spirit of those regulations, which provide relief only for specifically defined physical or mental disabilities. Therefore, the lower court improperly relied on the spirit of the federal regulations to support its decision in favor of the resident.
- Presidential Village, LLC v. Phillips, December 2016