Tenant Must Give Information about Disability to Get Emotional Support Animal; Furbee v. Wilson

This case is a word of warning to those who are disabled—you may need to prove your disability, rather than just claim it, in order to get an accommodation.

Linder leased an apartment from Furbee. The lease banned pets in the apartment, but about six months into the lease a therapist wrote a letter on Linder’s behalf that told Furbee that she should have a cat as an emotional support animal. Furbee asked Linder for additional information so it could determine whether an accommodation would be allowed. This included a request for the number of sessions Linder had with the therapist and the nature of Linder’s disability. Linder refused to provide the information.

A couple of months later, Linder brought a cat into the apartment. Furbee fined her for having the pet (under the terms of the lease). The matter escalated, and Linder was eventually evicted. Linder filed a complaint with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

The Civil Rights Commission filed a complaint on Linder’s behalf, claiming that Furbee had unlawfully discriminated against Linder. Furbee moved for summary judgment, arguing that Linder had to identify her disability and state what major life activity was impaired before Furbee had an obligation to accommodate Linder’s needs. The trial court agreed that Furbee needed information, but thought that the kind of information Furbee wanted was excessive and unreasonable. Furbee appealed. The Indiana Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for a landlord to discriminate based on disability. It is based on the federal Fair Housing Act, so the Court looked to federal guidance when interpreting the Indiana Act. And federal courts had recognized that the Act allows people with disabilities to request reasonable accommodations. The question in this case is whether Linder gave enough information to Furbee so that Furbee could “meaningfully review” the request.

This review includes “request[ing] documentation or open[ing] a dialogue.” Generally, housing providers “need only the information necessary to apprise them of the disability and the desire and possible need for an accommodation.” … Certain impairments, including impairments that support a request for an emotional-support animal, may not be observable. In these cases, the housing provider may request information regarding “both the disability and the disability-related need for the animal.”

In this case, the letter Linder provided said that Linder “meets the definition of disability,” but it identified no disability. And while the letter said that Linder “has certain limitations regarding coping with symptoms that stem from her disability,” it identified no limitations or symptoms of the “disability.” This justified Furbee’s request for more information.

Linder argued that even if Furbee needed more information, its requests “went far beyond what it was permitted to ask.” But the Court held that the overbreadth of Furbee’s request did not excuse Linder’s failure to give sufficient information to Furbee.

Even assuming that Landlord’s questions about the number of sessions Tenant had with Snelson and an approximation of how long each session lasted were overbroad, the question about Tenant’s disability was not. Tenant could have told Landlord her disability and chosen not to answer the other two questions. Tenant, however, did nothing. The overbreadth of some of the questions did not absolve Tenant from providing the required information.

Furbee tried communicating with Linder, but Linder failed to respond. Therefore, Furbee’s eviction of Linder because she violated the no pets policy was lawful.
Lessons:
1. Landlords need to make reasonable accommodations to disabled tenants.
2. A tenant who seeks an accommodation from a landlord must give the landlord enough information to meaningfully review the request.
3. An overbroad request for information from a landlord does not excuse a tenant’s failure to give information for a meaningful review of her request for an accommodation.

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