Q&A: A Complaint About My Service Animal

Q. When I became disabled, I applied to the board for approval for a companion dog. Upon approval, I signed an agreement that restricted the dog from certain areas and reiterated the dog could not be a nuisance to neighbors. I installed $6,000 of thick padding and carpeting as well as rugs. The dog has been fabulous and well-behaved.

Recently we have had children visit on a regular basis, three times a week, and they play with the dog for about 30 minutes. Other than a few times that they dog has run across the unit a few times at night, that’s really it. 

But then I received a letter from the board regarding the excessive, disruptive noise from my unit. What does this mean for my right to have this dog?

                                    —Distressed Tenant

A. “What considerations should the board make with respect to the unit owners request?” says attorney Charles Keough of the law firm of Keough & Moody, which has offices in Chicago and Naperville. “1) Is the unit owner disabled according to the FHA definition, i.e., does the unit owner have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

“2) Is the service animal necessary to afford the handicapped person the equal opportunity to use their dwelling? Does the animal serve a function directly related to the unit owner’s disability? Can the unit owner provide medical documentation to the board that the dog is needed to accommodate the disability?

“3) Is the service animal a reasonable accommodation? I will presume from the question that the board and the owner came to terms on those items. Next, how specifically does the dog’s conduct amount to a nuisance? The owner’s explanation and the board’s letter do not seem to match up factually.

“Did the board cite specifics so that the owner is made aware of the complaints lodged about the dog? What is the nature of the excessive noise – is it related to barking, running, causing damage? Is this the board’s first notice to the owner about such noise? If the owner is made aware of the complaints, the owner may take steps to curtail the disruption. Does the board field complaints from owners about other noise violations emanating from other units and if so, what action has the board taken?

“In short, until the parties have had an opportunity to exchange facts about the dog’s conduct, I think that the owner need not yet worry about losing the right to maintain the dog.”                         

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