Can My Landlord Deny a Service Animal if I am Bipolar?

Full Question:

I am a resident and co-owner of an apartment in a senior community in Seal Beach, CA. They allow only small dogs, or 'service dogs'. I signed a pet agreement six months ago when I moved in to care for my Mom.Recently, I asked for an exception to be made. I did not tell them directly that I have bipolar, but I submitted a letter from my doctor and signed a medical release. The letter suggested that it might help my mood, motivation, and ability to care for my mother to have the dog. I felt that the letter could have been stronger, but I actually don't think the HOA cared about the content of the letter. My psychiatrist said that I could not consider my dog a service dog because there wasn't a task she was trained to help me with, nor was there a specific task that I needed that was beyond what a companion animal could provide. The HOA informed me in writing that my request was denied because I signed a pet agreement upon moving in. They gave me a copy of the agreement that I signed along with their letter of refusal.Losing the dog would be overwhelming to me. I am responsible for the care of my mother and I work fulltime. I have three children in college that need varying degrees of ongoing support. I am divorced and for the most part alone. I am needed by others, and I need to take care of myself.I wonder if my HOA has offered a resonable accommodation by allowing small dogs? I think I can get a stronger letter from a doctor. I am willing to work with a dog trainer if there is such a thing as a psychiatric service dog.Thank you
02/27/2011   |   Category: Animals   |   State: California   |   #24306


You may need to get a note stating that the dog performs a special function that alleviates your symptoms. The Fair Housing Act provides protections for “service animals” (such as seeing eye dogs) and “companion animals” that are related to a medical condition, and a homeowners association cannot prevent you from having a legitimate “service animal” or “companion animal.”

A person with a disability may have the right to ask for reasonable accommodations in housing matters. The answer may depend in part on whether you qualify as a disabled person within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act and the role the dog plays in allowing you to deal with your disability.

In one case, the plaintiffs claimed that a requirement that the dogs at issue are properly trained, certified, licensed, and an authorization request from a physician specializing in the field of the subject disability be produced was a violation of the Fair Housing Act. The court held that “a requirement that a service dog be ‘properly trained’ does not conflict with federal or state law.” The court further stated that the Fair Housing Act does not require “professional training,” but it recognized that “some type of training is necessary to transform a pet into a service animal.” Regarding the certification requirement, the court noted that there were “no uniform standards or credentialing criteria applied to all service animals or service animal trainers.” However, the court ruled that a tenant should make a bona fide effort to locate a certifying authority. The court upheld the physician authorization requirement as reasonable.
Please see the following CA statute which classifies bipolar as a disability:

12926.1. The Legislature finds and declares as follows:
(a) The law of this state in the area of disabilities provides
protections independent from those in the federal Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336). Although the federal
act provides a floor of protection, this state's law has always, even
prior to passage of the federal act, afforded additional
(b) The law of this state contains broad definitions of physical
disability, mental disability, and medical condition. It is the
intent of the Legislature that the definitions of physical disability
and mental disability be construed so that applicants and employees
are protected from discrimination due to an actual or perceived
physical or mental impairment that is disabling, potentially
disabling, or perceived as disabling or potentially disabling.
(c) Physical and mental disabilities include, but are not limited
to, chronic or episodic conditions such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis,
epilepsy, seizure disorder, diabetes, clinical depression, bipolar
disorder, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease. In addition, the
Legislature has determined that the definitions of "physical
disability" and "mental disability" under the law of this state
require a "limitation" upon a major life activity, but do not
require, as does the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a
"substantial limitation." This distinction is intended to result in
broader coverage under the law of this state than under that federal
act. Under the law of this state, whether a condition limits a major
life activity shall be determined without respect to any mitigating
measures, unless the mitigating measure itself limits a major life
activity, regardless of federal law under the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990. Further, under the law of this state,
"working" is a major life activity, regardless of whether the actual
or perceived working limitation implicates a particular employment or
a class or broad range of employments.
(d) Notwithstanding any interpretation of law in Cassista v.
Community Foods (1993) 5 Cal.4th 1050, the Legislature intends (1)
for state law to be independent of the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990, (2) to require a "limitation" rather than a "substantial
limitation" of a major life activity, and (3) by enacting paragraph
(4) of subdivision (i) and paragraph (4) of subdivision (k) of
Section 12926, to provide protection when an individual is
erroneously or mistakenly believed to have any physical or mental
condition that limits a major life activity.
(e) The Legislature affirms the importance of the interactive
process between the applicant or employee and the employer in
determining a reasonable accommodation, as this requirement has been
articulated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its
interpretive guidance of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

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