MI Court of Appeals Rules on Emotional Support Animals and Housing
The issue of “Emotional Support Animals” (ESA) has been in the news with reports of an ESA peacock and miniature horse being permitted on airlines. Governments have allowed citizens with certain psychological disabilities to register ESAs to help them in their daily lives, including the Fair Housing Act.
A handicap or disability for purposes of the Fair Housing Act provides that a landlord may not discriminate because of a handicap by refusing to make reasonable accommodations. Often, a landlord suspects that a tenant does not actually require an ESA and is using the protection to simply avoid a prohibition on animals on the property.
This issue was recently addressed by the Michigan Court of Appeals in the case of Riverbrook v Fabode. Where a tenant obtained a Pitbull puppy – which is a forbidden breed in the community – and then relied on a letter from a counselor stating the tenant would benefit from having the puppy (Now an adult dog). The landlord went to court to evict the tenant for having an unauthorized animal. The trial court ruled in favor of the tenant relying on a letter from a counselor.
The landlord suspected that the tenant purchased the opinion that he required an ESA from a website advertising “A doctor in our network may be able to prescribe an ESA with only one phone call” and the customer could receive his or her “Doctor Letter for Airline Travel and Housing immediately via email for print and use” for a fee of $179.99.
The landlord argued the letter from the counselor was a form letter and was not credible proof of the tenant’s disability. The tenant relied on the letter, arguing it should be accepted on its face. The Michigan Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court to determine if there was credible evidence of a disability and the need for an ESA.
In summary, a person can no longer simply rely on a letter obtained on the internet to support a need for an ESA and the courts must look closer at the issue rather than simply accepting a letter.