July 13, 2020 – Complications for Emotional Support Animals in Iowa

White young female, dark hair with a pony tail - lying on a bed with yellow and white bedspread - stroking a black and grey cat with green eyes - posters on a white wall

William Goren – an attorney I admire who has a blog regarding disability rights laws and cases recently came across a case from the Iowa Supreme Court that complicates Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) in campus housing. I have attached the link to Mr. Goren’s blog space below.

http://www.williamgoren.com/blog/2020/07/07/emotional-support-animal-iowa-supreme-court-cohen-clark/

Here is my interpretation of the situation:

Hi William,

I hope all is well during these “new normal times.” I did have the opportunity to sit down and read your information on the Iowa Supreme Case. Thank you for your extraordinary effort in regards to the ruling.

Yes, I am not an attorney, so when reading the summation, I was digesting it from a pragmatic perspective. In terms of postsecondary schools, I do not see the situation as “draconian.” Colleges, for the most part, have multiple housing units available. My experience is colleges ask students using housing facilities of any allergies, among other considerations, that should be taken into account when determining room assignments. It would seem a student allergic to dogs would list that on the application for housing.

A student requesting an ESA privilege would be prudent to inform the school of the need before arriving at the school. In reading your expert summary, an Iowa school is allowed to move the person with an ESA to another building (or vice versa, I assume) to accommodate the disabled person with an ESA. My thoughts are college housing personnel have been placing students in facilities for decades (centuries actually) and “have the know-how” to resolve these issues for the benefit of all. So in my layperson’s thoughts, I cannot see a tremendous difficulty with an Iowa postsecondary student having an ESA within the campus housing should the school “put their minds into it.”

I did like the statement by Justice MacDonald that the majority opinion would weaponize an affirmative defense for neighbors to sue disabled persons with the ruling. Yes, in my mind, that is a significant concern. Persons abiding within the spirit of HUD guidelines for ESAs will have little trouble with the ruling. However, ableists, supporting ableism in their apartment complexes, could be a detriment for disabled persons in their pursuit of the utilization of ESAs in their apartments.

You mention the Iowa Supreme Court relegated the case back to the District Courts for further review. I think that the final decision has not occurred in the case, and thus the current status quo remains in place. Can you enlighten me on this, please?

Finally, in reading your thoughts, I think of what you and I have said many times in the past. Postsecondary schools need to work closely with their legal advisors. I read here of a person with multiple apartment buildings. The case you describe involves a four-story construction, at least. A person operating a business of this magnitude would have been much better off seeking formal legal counsel, which could have saved the landlord “bucko bucks,” at least in my mind. Instead, the landlord relied on informal advice. My experience with governmental agencies offering informal advice is that they clearly state it is only informal.  A person facing legal acting needs to have the input of a licensed attorney when making a decision.

Again, thanks for your efforts. Any feedback?

George Fuller, MPA, MA
CEO, Daniel Jonathan Fuller Memorial Fund
gsfuller@djfullermemorialfund.org

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