The decision in a recent court case indicates that local laws against certain animals may not violate fair housing law. The case is Bauhman v. City of Elkhart, TX, March 2018.
Facts of the Case
1. The city of Elkhart has an ordinance against exotic animals.
2. The resident had a seven pound ring-tail lemur as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA).
3. The resident claimed that she was disabled and that the lemur improved her qualify of life.
4. The lemur had bitten people three times, with the third time being within the city limits.
5. The City enacted the ordinance after the third incident, and banned exotic animals from being within the city limits. The ban includes all non-human primates.
6. The City denied the request for a reasonable accommodation.
Ruling: The court ruled that the resident failed to show that the requested accommodation was “reasonable.”
The resident failed to present any evidence to show that the threat of danger posed by the animal could be reduced or eliminated by any reasonable option.
This case serves as another reminder that while owners may not prohibit any type of animal as an ESA, there may be circumstances where it is unreasonable to allow certain animals in a residential environment. However, had the facts of this case been different (e.g., the animal had no history of proving to be dangerous), the court may have taken a different position and ruled that the city ordinance was a fair housing violation.
In cases where particular animals are banned by local laws, property owners should not automatically deny requests for ESAs that fall within the ban. A request should be made to the locality to see if there is any procedure for requesting a reasonable accommodation and if there is, a request should be made. Failing to determine whether such a procedure exists may expose an owner to liability under fair housing law. Failure of the locality to grant a reasonable accommodation takes the burden away from the property owner and places it on the locality.