July 4, 2016 — When a buyer turns out to be a cash buyer, that's usually a plus in a transaction. At least, that's what one Realtor thought when she started working with a buyer who had just completed a tour in the Army. The buyer had been injured in the line of duty and planned to live in the condo with Sam, his German Shepherd service animal.
The buyer's offer, accepted by the seller, included a condominium rider that made the agreement contingent on the buyer receiving approval from the condominium association before closing. The buyer submitted an application and included the disclosure that Sam would live with him. The condominium association denied Sam's application in writing, saying the association did not allow pets larger than 25 pounds. Both the seller and the buyer were upset and asked the Realtor if this was allowable.
The Realtor reminded both the seller and buyer that her real estate training did not extend to legal matters. However, she had recently attended a class in which the instructor stated that denying housing to someone as a result of the presence of a service animal is a violation of the federal Fair Housing laws.
According to federal law, it is discrimination for a landlord or an entity such as a condominium association to refuse "to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling."
The buyer retained an attorney, who asked the condominium association to reconsider its decision based on the Fair Housing laws. The association agreed, but only if the buyer agreed to pay a large pet deposit to cover any impact the large dog might have on the premises. The attorney reminded the condominium association that under Fair Housing laws, a housing provider cannot require service animals to have any specific training, apply a blanket weight or breed restriction, require pet insurance or charge a pet deposit. The condominium association reconsidered and the buyer purchased the unit.
If you are ever involved in a situation like this, remember that while you are not a housing provider, if you represent one and intentionally participate in unlawful discrimination, you are also liable under the Fair Housing laws. If landlords ask you about exceptions to this law, refer them to an attorney.
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