IOWA SUPREME COURT BRINGS COMMON SENSE TO THE EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL ISSUE

The Supreme Court of Iowa came out with a big decision regarding emotional support animal law that I’m hoping Florida eventually follows as well.  Karen Cohen vs. David Clark And 2800-1 LLC.  This case involves a tenant with pet allergies who deliberately moved into an apartment building due to its no-pets policy.  However, later on, a neighboring tenant sought a waiver of the no-pets policy for his emotional support dog, and the landlord didn’t want to say no and get sued.  As a result, the landlord tried to accommodate both of them. He allowed the emotional support dog on the premises while requiring the two tenants to use different stairways and provided an air purifier for the tenant with pet allergies; but the tenant still suffered from allergic attacks from the dog. She then sued the landlord and her neighboring tenant in small claims court for breach of the lease’s no-pets provision and interference with the quiet enjoyment of her apartment. As a defense, the landlord asserted that its waiver of the no-pets policy was a reasonable accommodation and he had no choice but to allow the emotional support dog under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

So this landlord was dammed if he did and dammed if he didn’t.  If he allowed the dog – the tenant with allergies sues him.  If he denies the dog, the tenant with the need for the emotional support dog sues him.  Interestingly enough, Florida and Iowa have virtually the exact same provision in their state law and also the federal law says:  the association or the landlord may: deny a reasonable accommodation request for an emotional support animal if such animal poses a direct threat to the safety or health of others or poses a direct threat of physical damage to the property of others, which threat cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.

That’s exactly the facts in this Iowa case.  This emotional support dog was posing a threat to the health and safety of someone who already lived there and was allergic to the emotional support dog.

So what did the court decide?  The landlord’s accommodation of the emotional support dog was not reasonable because the tenant with pet allergies had priority in time (she was there first) and the dog’s presence posed a direct threat to her health.  We also conclude that the tenant suffering allergic attacks was entitled to recover on her claims of breach of lease and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and remand for an award of her requested damages of one month’s rent. The fact that the tenant with allergies was first in time and the dog posed a direct threat to her health tips the balance in her favor in this case.

Finally…..a court took someone else’s health into consideration…and didn’t just rubber stamp the request for the emotional support animal.  If Florida were to follow this Iowa decision…..and I hope it does……my thinking is that I would want to send out a survey now to all of the owners in my no pet condo, asking them if they have any medical condition like allergies, that would jeopardize their health, should an emotional support animal seek to move next door to them.  And if they answered — and they said they can’t have an animal live next door to them because it would affect their health, the condo would be able to rely on that survey and deny the animal.

Why should the health of an owner who already lives there suffer, because a new owner wants to move into a “no pet” community with their emotional support animal?  If the language of the law is to have any meaning – then the association should be able to rely on the survey and say no to the person who wants to move into a no pet community if it would affect the health of a pre-existing owner.  I think the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court is spot on.  What do you think?

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