Tenant Wins Support Dog Claim

Image Credit: NYCHA.

NYCHA put the tenant on probation after the tenant’s dog attacked the NYCHA employee. In April 2015, Lerone Washington’s English bulldog, Onyx, jumped and bit NYCHA’s employee who was delivering a hotplate to Washington’s apartment.  A few weeks later NYCHA informed Washington that it considered terminating Washinton’s lease due to his having an unauthorized and dangerous dog in the apartment. Although Washington attempted to register Onyx as a service pet, NYCHA ordered Washington to remove Onyx from the apartment immediately and placed Washington on probation for one year.

Washington filed an article 78 petition challenging NYCHA’s decision. Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron denied the petition and upheld NYCHA’s removal order as well as the one-year probation on Washington. Judge Engoron accepted NYCHA’s finding that Washington’s dog was “vicious” and a source of danger to NYCHA employees and other residents.

The Appellate Division, First Department reversed and remanded for further determination of Washington’s request to register his dog as an emotional support animal.  The Appellate court held that under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, a housing provider must make reasonable accommodations when such accommodations are necessary to afford a person equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. Federal regulations exempt animals that assist and support persons with disabilities from public housing authority pet rules.

The Court found that the NYCHA hearing officer ignored evidence submitted by Washington showing that he suffers from depression and schizophrenia. The hearing officer solely focused on the fact that a NYCHA employee had been attacked by Washington’s bulldog and that such an incident may occur again. The Court ruled that because of Washington’s mental condition, having a service dog may qualify as a reasonable accommodation necessary to assist Washington in dealing with his mental struggles. The Appellate court remanded the case and ordered the lower court to consider Washington’s depression and schizophrenia diagnosis in determining whether he is entitled to register his dog as an emotional support animal.

(CIT) Washington v. Olatoye, 2019 NY Slip Op 04644 2019 WL 2425735 (App. Div.)

By: Filip Cukovic (Filip is the CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2021.)

3 thoughts on “Tenant Wins Support Dog Claim

  1. This is fair.

    The court exceeded its authority in accepting NYCHA’s self-serving determination that the dog Onyx was vicious. NYCHA is not an expert in dog matters and therefore not competent to reach such a determination.

    There are limits under FHA to whether a dog may remain on premises, but it is critical to note that most dogs are quite reasonable and bite only when they have a reason. There is nothing in the encapsulated summary concerning the NYCHA employee’s behavior but t is an issue and should be on the record.

  2. I’m a housing advocate, and a SD handler, I think the court has lost it’s mind.
    1-Accommodations need be requested and approved BEFORE moving in the animal, not AFTER it’s bitten someone, or you’ve been found in violation of your lease.
    2-An animal that bites can lawfully be denied as an accommodation.
    3-Just because the tenant has a DIAGNOSIS of depression and schizophrenia does NOT necessarily mean he is disabled by either condition. Diagnosis does not equal disability.
    4-there is NO SUCH THING as “registration “ for an emotional support animal. All registries are frauds, and not recognized by any agency. The federal government does not acknowledge, and landlords, stores, etc, need to stop asking for, or accepting g such things.
    5-the article intersperses term ESA and Service dog. Which is the case here? If not trained, it’s not a service dog, this dog was not trained, and a dog that bites cannot, EVER, be a service dog

  3. Ok, so he had a dog in his apartment. Didn’t ask for accommodation (which may be a violation of the lease) The dog now has a bite history.

    He now wants to claim it as an assistance animal.

    This is not what would be considered a “reasonable accommodation” any more.

    “….a housing provider may only determine if the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. This determination of a “direct threat” must be based on “individualized assessment that relies on objective evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct.” (FHEO Notice: FHEO-2013-01 at page 3)”

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