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Do tenants have the right to have an ’emotional support’ animal in their rented property?

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Assistance animals v. emotional support animals

It will generally be considered discriminatory for a landlord to refuse to allow a tenant to keep an ‘assistance animal’.  These are almost always dogs and are specially trained to assist people who are blind or deaf.

However many people like to keep a pet becuase it makes them feel better – what are their rights if the landlord refuses permission?

These animals are generally known as ’emotitional support animals’ and the general rule is that (as for all requests by tenants to keep a pet) landlords will only be entitled to refuse permission if this is reasonable.  

In many cases it will be reasonable to refuse permission – for example some animals can be very destructive and the damge they do can be expensive to put right.  We discuss this in our article here.

However I want to tell you about one case where the a Judge did allow an emotional support dog – this is the case of Plymouth Community Homes Ltd v Christopher Palmer from February 2021 (reported in the local press here).

Plymouth Community Homes Ltd v Christopher Palmer

Christopher Palmer, a person with severe disabilities (significant mental health issues), moved into an assured tenancy flat owned by Plymouth Community Homes (PCH) in 2012.

In 2018, Mr Palmer’s mental health, unfortunately, deteriorated and his doctor suggested that he get an emotional support dog to help him.  He obtained  Tammy, a Jack Russell /Beagle cross at the end of 2018, and the dog did indeed help him significantly. However, animals were prohibited under the terms of his tenancy agreement.

PCH wrote to Mr Palmer asking him to remove the dog from the property and when he refused, started eviction proceedings on the basis of a breach of the tenancy agreement. Mr Palmer brought counter proceedings against PCH under the Equalities Act 2010.

The Judges decision

The judge found that although Mr Palmer was in breach of his tenancy agreement, PCH had discriminated against Mr Palmer as the action of the eviction arose from his disability. Mr Palmer’s GP gave evidence that the emotional support dog has a positive effect and acts as a form of treatment for his mental illnesses.

The Judge also found that PCH’s action was not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim – ie

  • the impact on other tenants,
  • fire safety/evacuation and
  • the impact on the fabric of the flat.

On the evidence, none of these were adversely affected by the presence of the dog.

The judge finally considered whether PCH had acted unlawfully on public law grounds. He did not deal with this in detail but stated that in broad terms PCH had two problems. It had not applied its own pets policy and had instead adopted a blanket ‘no dogs in tower blocks’ policy.

The judge made a declaration that Mr Palmer had a disability under the Equality Act. The prohibition on him having Tammy was discriminatory and PCH had not been able to show that this was proportionate.

Mr Palmer was awarded damages of £2,500 and allowed to keep the dog within the property.  The Judge also held that PCH had not acted maliciously but in good faith, albeit misguidedly.

And finally

This case is a County Court decision and so is not binding on other Judges – although it may be persuasive if you find yourself in a similar position. 

The fact that Mr Palmer had the support of his doctor was very important so if you feel the need for an emotional support animal, you may want to speak to your doctor and see if this is something he or she would be willing to support.

However when it comes down to it, each case will depend in its own facts and a Judge would be looking also at the suitability of the dog or other animal to live at the premises, and its effect on other occupiers.

Be aware also that the landlord in this case was a social housing landlord.  The Judge could have come to a different decision if the landlord had been a private landlord.

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