- Co-op buildings are buildings where tenants are shareholders of the building. Co-ops are run by the Co-op Board the owners and tenants must follow building rules.
- New York State prohibits apartments, condos, and co-ops from denying an applicant due to age, sex, religion, race, disability, etc.
- Emotional support animals and their owners are protected by the Fair Housing Act (this always overrules Co-op rules).
- You must have an ESA letter in order to live in a no-pets building with your Emotional Support Animal.
- If you are turned away from an apartment, condo, or co-op for having an ESA, you can fight for your rights.
Co-ops, or cooperatives, are apartment buildings owned by a corporation, where residents buy shares to a particular apartment. These shares entitle the purchaser to a long term proprietary lease for the space. These cooperative buildings have their own Co-op Board of Directors, who follow internal laws set forth by federal regulations. Because owners can be both shareholders and tenants, issues faced can be complicated to handle because of how the Board of Directors can mainly be a third party in dispute matters. However, because they are required to follow federal regulations, a tenant or shareholder with a disability can reference federal rules in cases of discrimination.
What Do New York State housing laws state about discrimination?
According to the NYS Fair Housing Guide, discriminating against a person with a disability because of their need to use an emotional support animal in order to enjoy their apartment complex is prohibited by law. This law is the New York State Human Rights Law, which prohibits housing discrimination based off of race, creed, national origin, sex, age, marital status, military status, family status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Because of the NYS Human Rights Law, these laws apply to all types of housing, including, but not limited to, public housing, condominiums, cooperatives, and rental apartments.
Do these rights apply to my Emotional Support Animal?
While discrimination laws apply to those who are disabled, in cases of services animals, disabled people cannot be denied services and accommodations for housing. However, depending on the law followed, some extra steps may be needed for that disabled person to have their animal in the apartment complex. The definition of service animals, in reference to the Fair Housing Act, is broader than the ADA’s definition of service animals. Because the ADA only applies to service dogs and miniature horses, animals such as emotional support animals qualify under the Fair Housing Act and thus have extra procedures to follow.
In cases of a disabled person having an emotional support animal, the person who’s applying for the apartment must be able to show documentation that he or she has a disability, thus qualifying them for the tenancy, and be able to show that the emotional support animal is required to enjoy the apartment. This requires that medical or psychological expert testimony or evidence must be provided to indicate that the animal is necessary in order to use and enjoy the condo.
What kind of documents do I have to provide to the Co-op Board for my ESA?
Necessary evidence or testimony can come in the form of an ESA letter written and signed by a licensed mental health professional. Co-op Boards must accept documentation from licensed mental health professionals and allow the future or existing tenant to live with their emotional support animal, even if the Co-op does not normally accept pets into the building. A legitimate ESA letter will be written on the licensed mental health professional’s official letterhead and include their licensing information and signature. The Co-op Board can verify that the ESA letter was indeed written by the LMHP by requesting additional documentation or by contacting the LMHP.
A Co-op Board cannot request emotional support animal registration papers or certificates if an ESA letter is provided. The Fair Housing Act does not require your ESA to be registered to any database.
How can I tell if I have been discriminated against by the co-op?
Because it can be hard to tell upfront if someone is discriminating against you, one of the ways that the New York State determines if these rights have been violated is through conducting tests through an agency. Agencies that are approved and funded by the federal government can help investigate complaints by testing the agency or landlord for those violations.
If the agency has been able to prove that discrimination has taken place, federal laws direct that steps may be considered to remedy the situation. This can include imposing fines and penalties, require changes to policies, assess money damages, and or make housing available for the tenant.
How do I settle discrimination disputes when applying for a co-op apartment?
Because so many different laws protect the housing rights of people with disabilities, an individual who believes his or her rights have been violated must look at the various rules and determine which rules apply in each situation and what protections can be provided.
Sometimes, when working with a cooperative apartment agreement, disputes may arise concerning what services can be provided and labeling what rights the disabled person has in a situation.
For example, in one case, the cooperative attempted to argue that the plaintiff, or applying application for the apartment, lied by not disclosing their disability when plaintiff required a washing machine in his apartment to wash his soiled clothes as the result of his treatment for rectal cancer. While the plaintiff did not mention this during his board interview, their policy stated that washers and dryers are prohibited within the units. The New York state court, however, cited that it is not permitted to inquire about the applicant’s disability, which resulted in the plaintiff winning the case.
How to fight for your rights when applying to a Co-op with an ESA.
If you are having trouble with your Co-op board in regards to your emotional support animal, you can email the Co-op Board with your ESA letter and ask if they are denying reasonable accommodations. If they respond with invasive medical questions, understand that you are not required to provide your private medical information to anyone. If they are not providing additional information and blatantly discriminating against you and your emotional support animal, you can contact HUD and file a complaint.
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