by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

The other day, through our Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership (BeHeLP), I had the pleasure of speaking to a landlord. Now, most attorneys who represent tenants do not enjoy speaking to landlords, and usually, I fall in that category. But my work on behalf of this particular BeHeLP client demonstrated that sometimes, advocacy need not be adversarial.

I called this landlord because my client needed an emotional support animal to cope with his mental illness. When he asked to keep his animal despite the building’s no-pet policy, the landlord demanded a pet deposit. Because an emotional support animal is not a pet but rather an accommodation for a disability, charging a pet deposit for one is illegal under fair housing laws. This is the sort of legal problem we frequently encounter at MHAS in our fair housing practice.

However, when I called the landlord expecting the usual negotiation, I was pleasantly surprised. She asked me, “What exactly are my obligations under the law?” She explained that she wanted to comply, but she had never had a tenant with an emotional support animal and did not know how to proceed.

This was an opportunity for education that MHAS is well-equipped to handle. We routinely educate housing providers on how to avoid housing discrimination, and we have useful fair housing tips available on our website that can even be sent through email alerts. I explained the relevant law to this landlord and directed her to our resources. Ultimately, she agreed to permit the emotional support animal.

Unfortunately, most interactions with an opponent in a legal case are not so friendly. But it’s important to remember that people on both sides of a case can be well-meaning, and more legal education benefits us all.