The Service Rooster
July 10, 2014
By Robert L. Cain
When I was an undergraduate in college, I lived in a cottage next to people who had chickens, including a rooster. I didn’t want to get up at 3:30 in the morning, but the rooster apparently thought everyone should since he was up. I would have killed that rooster if I had been able to catch it.
Your new tenant needs a rooster. He has a disability. It’s not an obvious one, so the request for “reasonable accommodation” is accompanied by a letter from his psychiatrist. It seems he grew up on a farm and city life is simply too stressful for him. He needs to feel, just a little as if he’s still in the country. What with this being a triplex with a small yard, farm equipment, livestock, and barns aren’t practical, but a rooster is.
When he was growing up, the rooster popped open his eyes every morning, so all was right with the world. Sometimes it was still dark out, of course, but the rooster let him know that the sunrise was only an hour or two away. Thus, to relieve the stress of living in the city, he wants a rooster. You want to say “no way,” but you had better not because HUD says you can’t, at least not immediately.
You see, HUD’s Fair Housing Enforcement Order FHEO-2013-01 is clear that service animals can be any breed or species and that “A determination that an assistance animal poses a direct threat of harm to others . . . must be based on individualized assessment that relies of objective evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct—not on mere speculation or fear about the types of harm or damage an animal that other animals have caused” (HUD FHEO-2013-01) Harm could include lack of sleep for neighbors.
Yes, this is an exaggeration. The likelihood of a service rooster is almost nil. However, far from nil is the likelihood of a dangerous or destructive service dog or maybe monkey. You can refuse to accept a service animal that is destructive or a potential harm to others, but it must be based on, as the citation states, on an assessment of that animal, not the breed or species in general. We may not even ask if the animal has been trained. HUD’s enforcement memo also states, that while we can ask if the animal “required because of a disability,” and “what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform,” we may not ask for “proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal.”
So your tenant wants a pit bull to keep him company and make him feel more secure. He gets a letter from his psychiatrist saying that a pit bull is the only kind of animal that will keep him from running through the city inflicting harm to others, property, and himself. You are familiar with the reputation pit bulls have and your immediate reaction is “no way.” Too bad, unless you can find evidence about that specific animal that show it is dangerous. You need to wait for Bruno, the dog, to actually terrorize or bite someone, such as another tenant. Then, you’ll have to provide all kinds of documentation showing that the animal was at fault.
Of course, you would already have had the letter from the attorney of the injured party. Yes, you were helpless to prevent the dog from living in your property, but how much will it cost to prove that?
That one’s obvious. What about the “service monkey”? Monkeys can be useful to people who are in wheelchairs to reach objects that otherwise would not be accessible. But monkeys can be a greater danger to people and property than dogs. They can open doors and windows. If they run amok, they can trash a room in a matter of minutes. A person in a wheelchair would be unable to do anything about it. Even a person who is ambulatory would be unable to do much of anything about a monkey that doesn’t want to be caught. You simply have to wait for the damage to evict the monkey. Of course, the tenant has to pay for it, but he or she most likely doesn’t have the several thousand dollars the cleanup and repair will cost.
What’s a landlord to do? Verify everything. Previous landlords might be an excellent resource for discovering a problem with an animal, but only if that animal is the same one the tenant had in his or he previous home. Even the bureaucrats admit, you can require that animals be kept under control. That means they must be restrained appropriately in public and kept secure, in the case of a monkey, when they are not working for the disabled person. It’s just one extra thing we need to do in the hands-on management of rental property.