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Visitor’s Service Animal and Transgender Tenants

Posted on 01. Jun, 2013 by in all, Magazine Articles

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Question: I manage a 12-unit apartment complex.  My complex has a strict no pets policy.  We understand that under federal and state Fair Housing law, we may need to make an exception to our no-pet policy for a disabled resident who requires a service animal as a reasonable accommodation.   However there is a resident at my apartment complex, who is not herself disabled, who has a visitor staying with her for a few weeks. The visitor has a dog that accompanies her everywhere and appears to be staying in the resident’s apartment with her.  When I asked the resident about the dog, she told me that her guest is disabled and that the dog is a service animal.   Do I have to allow the visitor’s service animal? If so, what sort of documentation can I request from the visitor?

Answer:  Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), you are required to allow a tenant’s visitor to bring his or her service animal into the rental unit as a reasonable accommodation for the visitor’s disability, assuming all other requirements of the Act are met.

The FHA extends not only to renters, but also to persons “associated” with the tenant. Therefore, a tenant’s visitor is protected because that visitor is associated with the renter. Tenants are entitled to the full use and enjoyment of their housing, which includes having guests visit.

Under the FHA, a person who is associated with the tenant is protected, if that person has a physical or mental disability, or (2) has a record of such disability, or (3) is regarded as having such a disability.  A visitor, just like the tenant, who meets one of these criteria must be offered reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if such accommodation is necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.   Failure to do so would be a violation of the FHA.

If the visitor’s disability is obvious, or otherwise known to you, and the need for accommodation is also readily apparent or known, you may not request any additional information about the disability or the need for accommodation.

If the visitor’s disability is not obvious, you may request reliable disability-related information that: (1) verifies the person is disabled under the Fair Housing Act; (2) describes the needed accommodation; (3) shows the relationship between the disability and the requested accommodation.   The supporting letter can be provided by a doctor or other reliable third-party.  Even though the disability may not be apparent to you, you are not entitled to ask that the support letter include a description of the nature of the disability.

Transgender Tenant

Question:   I have been renting an apartment to a man named Michael, who recently asked me to start calling him Michelle, because he says he now identifies as a woman.  He has also started wearing make-up and women’s clothing.  Both the name change and the change in dress make me uncomfortable and I’m worried that it may make my other tenants want to leave.  At least one of the other tenants has commented about the “freak” inApartment 201 and has asked me if the “freak” has any plans to move out.  Michael has been an otherwise good tenant for several years.  I don’t really want to terminate his tenancy, but I don’t think I should be forced to call him anything but the name he listed on his rental application.  I also don’t want him to stay if his behavior will provoke the other tenants.  What am I allowed to do?

Answer:  The applicable fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on gender, which includes gender identity.  As a landlord, you are obligated to treat each prospective or current tenant the same, without regard to their gender or gender identity.  Michael must be called Michelle, regardless of the name she initially listed on her rental application and regardless of how you personally feel about her gender identity.  If you continuously and intentionally call her by the name and pronoun that does not correspond to her gender identity then you may be liable for gender discrimination and unlawful harassment.  If you terminate Michelle’s tenancy because you or your other tenants feel uncomfortable with transgender people, that action would also constitute discrimination, even if some of those tenants threaten to leave if you do not terminate Michelle’s tenancy.  You may not take adverse action against Michelle to satisfy the discriminatory demands of another tenant, even if it means you lose that tenant’s business.  Even further, if you become aware of any other tenant harassing Michelle because of her gender identity, you have an obligation to take action to stop it.   You may want to contact your local fair housing agency to inquire about training that may help sensitize you to civil rights. 

For more information, feel free to contact Project Sentinel at 888-324-7468 or at info@housing.org.  Check out our website at www.housing.org and like us on: www.facebook.com/PSProjectSentinel