Question: My son has severe allergies, including an allergy to cat fur. To keep him safe, I moved my family to a community that was advertised as pet free. Then, six months after moving here, I noticed a cat on my next door neighbor's balcony. When I asked the manager if the cat lived in the next unit, she said the community management had no choice because the cat was a companion animal necessary to mitigate that resident's disability. That may be great for my neighbor, but what about my son, who is in danger of needing emergency medical care if he has an allergy attack?
Answer: People who are deemed disabled under the fair housing laws are entitled to accommodations that are reasonable and necessary in order to have equal enjoyment of their units. One such accommodation can be an exception to a "no pets" rule being enforced in an apartment complex. Landlords should accommodate such requests, provided that the tenant sufficiently establishes a connection between the disability and the request.
The problem arises when granting a tenant's accommodation request potentially aggravates another tenant's disability. Your request sounds like it is certainly necessary, but the competing rights here require the parties to engage in an interactive process to find a solution that is reasonable.
For example, the parties could decide to explore asking the cat's owner to prevent her cat from roaming near your unit. In the event that this is not a feasible solution because of the difficulty controlling the cat's outdoor activity, you and your landlord could discuss allowing you to transfer to a different unit in the complex, away from the animal.
If there is no other workable accommodation, you might be able to request that the landlord allow you to terminate your lease early without being charged an early termination fee. It is important that the parties explore possible solutions on a specific, case-by-case basis.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.