Appeals block PCHR, disabled, from clear fair rules on emotional support animals

PHILADELPHIA, July 23, 2015 – At the cusp of celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, countless residents remain in limbo awaiting final outcome in a potentially precedent-setting case for the agency on whether reasonable housing accommodations include not just service animals but also assistance animals.

A 2014 decision by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations stands to open a new dimension for people with disabilities, but it remains mired in legal fights, despite having survived an initial appeal in the Court of Common Pleas.

“As our understanding of the needs of people with disabilities expands, it is clear that many people simply need small accommodations in order to live independently,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “The commissioners’ decision in this case was right and just and fell squarely in line with the Fair Housing Act and HUD’s guidelines.  Unnecessary appeals simply delay justice and equal opportunity to housing for people with disabilities.” plott_hound

In Rubin v. Kennedy House Inc., PCHR ruled that assistance animals deemed therapeutic for people with disabilities are not subject to standard no-pet policies. In fact, they are as viable as traditional service animals that assist those with physical impairments such as blindness or epilepsy.

The case stemmed from an incident involving Jan Rubin, a would-be member at the Kennedy House Inc., a housing co-op. Because her dog, Mira, was not formally trained, the managers considered it a pet, and the housing complex has a no-dog policy. Rubin argued that Mira was a support animal, one that aids in her daily routine and helps to lessen the effects of medical ailments that have compromised her mobility and quality of life.

The Court of Common Pleas agreed. Kennedy House has now filed a second appeal, this time in Commonwealth Court.

At stake is clarification of the rules for city residents and housing providers. PCHR followed guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on assistance animals that address a segment of society that’s growing ever-reliant on this means of therapy. Whether it’s due to arthritis or autism, panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to animals to help center them and allow them to better cope in the world.

Since enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, perspectives on accommodations and definitions of disabilities have continued to evolve. PCHR’s ruling is another example of that evolution.

“Not all disabilities are visible,” said PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle. “It’s easy to see someone with a wheelchair or a mobility device. But we also have people with autism, intellectual disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. These are disabilities as well. And the law is broadly written so that they, too, can be protected.”

Read the PCHR ruling on Jan Rubin v. Kennedy House, Inc..

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