Can I Get Around a No-Pet Policy With an Emotional Support Animal?

Q: I recently moved into a rental with a one-year lease. I chose this apartment in part because I thought I’d be able to get a dog. (The lease said “no pets without owner’s permission,” so I assumed a dog would at least be up for discussion.) However, the language in the welcome packet was stricter, saying, “no pets in the building, no exceptions.” One way around this would be to say that I need an emotional support animal. But my landlord might see this for what it is — a workaround — and not renew my lease when it expires. How would you handle this situation?

A: The New York City Human Rights Law protects New Yorkers against discrimination for disabilities, and that includes tenants who need an emotional support animal. The welcome package you received violates those rules by not allowing for exceptions to the building’s no-pets policy, and the building could be reported to the Human Rights Commission.

If you need an emotional support animal to provide support or assistance to help treat the symptoms of a disability, tell your landlord. You may have to include a letter in support from a health care provider, although you do not need to disclose an underlying condition. Your landlord must accommodate your request unless it creates an undue hardship.

“Go to our website and print out that fact sheet and share that with the landlord and say, ‘Here is what the Commission on Human Rights has to say about emotional support animals,’” said Jose Rios Lua, the executive director of communications and marketing for the Human Rights Commission, which enforces the law.

If the landlord rejects your request, you could file a complaint with the commission, which would investigate your claim. If you have no need for an emotional support animal, then your only option is to ask your landlord for an exception to the no-pet policy, explaining that you intend to be a good owner. If you’ve owned a dog before, you could cite that as evidence of your responsibility. But any exception to the rule would be at your landlord’s discretion.

If you do need an emotional support animal, could your landlord retaliate against you and not renew your lease at the end of the term? It’s possible, but it would be a violation of state rental laws and the Human Rights Law, which protects against retaliation. If you challenged a nonrenewal, you’d have a strong case, according to Darryl M. Vernon, a lawyer who represents people with companion animals. The landlord could even be on the hook for your legal fees. Given that risk, “The landlord might really back off,” Mr. Vernon said.

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