Allergies vs. Mental Wellness – How do You Choose?

The Iowa Supreme Court recently found itself dealing with competing wellness issues between a tenant’s need for an emotional support animal (“ESA”) and a prior tenant’s allergies. On June 30, 2020, the Court held that a landlord should not have waived its “no pet” policy to accommodate for a “new” tenant’s ESA because an existing tenant had objected due to her allergies.

The existing tenant claimed that the landlord’s waiver of the no pet policy was a breach of her covenant of quiet enjoyment under the lease, because the presence of the ESA caused her to have a severe allergic reaction. In contrast, the tenant with the ESA, claimed that the waiver was a necessary and reasonable accommodation under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (“ICRA”) because the ESA was essential for his emotional wellbeing.

Faced with a dilemma between a medical condition and one’s mental wellbeing, the Court applied a “priority-in-time” test. The Court ruled in favor of the tenant with the allergies as she was the was living in the building before the tenant requiring the ESA.

Justice Appel’s dissent raised a valid concern – apparently the record did not establish that the tenant’s allergy symptoms were a “serious” threat to her health, but rather caused her to experience cold-like symptoms. In contrast, the record did establish that second tenant was able to reduce his dependence on medication because the ESA provided significant emotional and therapeutic support. This raises the question of at what point does one’s “comfort” outweigh someone’s emotional wellbeing.

While a tenant has a right to not be subject to continuous allergic reactions, especially when living in an apartment that specifically does not allow for pets, we also know systems like the ICRA and the American’s with Disabilities Act ensure that people in need must be treated fairly and receive reasonable accommodations.

Rather than attempt to determine who’s needs were superior, the majority opinion pointed out, that the existing tenant moved into this particular building because of its no pet policy. As such, why should she have to bear the costs of moving to another no pet building, only to likely move again when another party applies for an ESA waiver. At the same time, though, perhaps there are no pet-friendly buildings in the area, at which point these waivers are essential to the second tenant’s wellbeing. In this case, it appears that the “first in time” analysis was a logical approach to these competing issues.

If you are interested in finding your own fur-companion, I would highly recommend you check out the residents at your local animal shelter. For Angelinos, you can see all of the available animals at the Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control website (opens in a new tab). To learn about our firm’s chief wellness officer, Sophie, you can read her introduction.