Landlord and Tenant Tussle Over Companion Animal

A tenant is proceeding with a lawsuit against her landlord for the way she was treated after requesting a companion animal.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has determined that the landlord’s actions may have violated the Fair Housing Act.

The tenant, a student at a Michigan university,  asked for the right to keep a guinea pig despite the landlord’s no-pets policy because she suffers from a heart condition and depression. She says the animal helps her cope.

The landlord has agreed to allow the woman to keep the animal in her room while the complaint is pending.  However, there is some question whether that will continue to be the case.

This uncertainty, along with the difficulty the tenant encountered when she requested a companion animal, prompted the lawsuit.

While the rules concerning service and companion animals are very similar under the Fair Housing Act, many landlords are unaware of one distinction — a  companion animal does not have to be specially trained.  The landlord cannot dictate what species of animal the tenant chooses as a companion, so long as having the animal does not violate local laws, or  pose a threat to others.

A landlord’s pet policies do not apply to companion animals.

Coincidentally,  because guinea pigs are highly social, animal rights advocates insist that they should be kept in pairs or colonies.  Lone guinea pigs, they contend, are more susceptible to stress, and depression.

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