Revock v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association
Third Circuit Court of Appeals, 2017
A very instructive case was decided last month in a Federal Appeals Court which will demonstrate almost everything not to do with respect to compliance with the Fair Housing Act relative to emotional support animals. This case dealt with a suit brought by two emotionally disabled unit owners in a condominium community that had a no pet rule. The association had no policy regarding service animals or emotional support animals. The residents seeking approval of their dogs provided appropriate paperwork supporting their need for the dogs. Certain residents were upset by the violation of the no pet rule expressing their views on strongly worded and insulting blog postings and called for these violators to be fined.
Initially the board did not reject the request for the dogs; instead the board levied fines but suspended payment pending legal advice. Eventually the board approved the request for accommodation after the election of a new president. Nevertheless the unit owners who required the emotional support animals filed suit under the Fair Housing Act against the Association.
The Court ruled for the Association; however, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a lower court indicating that the derogatory comments concerning the disabled owners may constitute illegal harassment under the FHA. The court focused on language defining hostile environment harassment which stated “unwelcome conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to interfere with user enjoyment of a dwelling” and said the regulation requires no more than verbal harassment in a single incident as being sufficient to create a hostile environment. The Court made it clear that the undue delay in approval, after adequate documentation was provided, can amount to a refusal.
The lesson learned here is to act promptly and decisively when dealing with any Fair Housing issue. The second lesson is the regulators and courts are most likely to look favorably on persons with disabilities who are acting in good faith. Substantial fines can be imposed for violations.