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New Jersey Supreme Court Sheds Light On Restrictions Relating To Emotional Support Animal Access

Published on April 08, 2024 by Darren Jorgensen
With the coming of a unanimous ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court individuals seeking public accommodations for emotional support animals are relieved. The court ruled against the alleged discrimination that tenants with emotional support animals faced and made it easier to fight against it.
NJ Supreme Court Clarifies Emotional Support Animal Access

The story begins when the couple, K.P. and B.F. moved into the Player’s Place II condo complex in Gloucester Township in May 2018. They agreed to the condo complex’s accommodation policies against dogs that weigh over 30 pounds, but the wife’s mental health history led her to seek an emotional support dog.

The husband emailed the condo association to inform them regarding the probable adoption of an emotional support dog beyond the 30-pound limit and inquired about what medical information and paperwork might be required for an exemption. Before the board replied, the couple adopted an emotional support dog named Luna. Luna is a Labrador mix and weighs around 70 pounds, which was far higher than what the condo association allowed.

B.F. stated in a court filing that she has grown up with a large dog which is why she wanted a larger dog for her mental well-being since smaller dogs are “loud and yappy” and added to her anxiety. She had letters from doctors who treated her and said an emotional support animal could help her during depressive episodes and panic attacks.

The board was unaware that the couple had already adopted a dog, and said it wouldn’t accommodate “any alleged disability.” When the board found out about Luna’s adoption they threatened the couple to take legal action against them for violating the association policies. Further, the association filed a complaint against the husband in October 2018, and the couple filed a counterclaim in return, alleging the association was violating state and federal anti-discrimination laws and the Federal Housing Act which protects the housing rights of the emotional support animals.

In a court trial in 2020, with testimony from medical experts, family members, and board members. The judge dismissed the couple’s claims of discrimination, finding that the woman was not “handicapped or disabled” within the meaning of the law. However, the court allowed Luna to remain with her owner, determining the dog did provide comfort and that Luna had not been disruptive to other residents.

The Court remarked that although a resident may acquire an ESA before requesting permission from the association, the resident bears the risk of not being able to show entitlement to the animal. The Court also held that a mental health professional is not required to prescribe or recommend an emotional support animal. Moreover, the court drew a clear line between service animals and emotional support animals.

The court further emphasized the HUD statement regarding the emotional support animal housing benefits that put restrictions on the housing providers to limit the breed or size of a dog used as a support animal. Therefore, B.F. was not required to show that she had a specific need for a dog that exceeded the weight limit. Rather, she had to show that the accommodation she requested, that is, the support animal, would help facilitate one or more effects of her disability to enhance her quality of life.

Moreover, the improper denial of an accommodation for a disabled person may result in significant damages, penalties, and attorneys’ fees against an association; the association must consult with legal counsel if it questions whether a requested accommodation should be provided.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that emotional support animals are different from pets and are not subject to general pet policies.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner also said in an opinion, “Housing providers can ask individuals to provide information that confirms they have a disability and need a support animal, such as a determination from a government agency or a letter from a health care professional,” But medical records or a medical examination cannot be required,’ he added, “aligning the state’s law with US Housing and Urban Development Department guidance.

Posted in: News

About the Author

Patricia Thompson
Darren Jorgensen
Darren M. Jorgensen has a fondness for all animals, though dogs especially, have a huge home in his heart. He enjoys quilting, making handcrafted soap and bodyworks and anything that produces practical products. Jorgensen lives with his own service dog who doubles as an Emotional Support Animal. He gets it.

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