PRESIDENTIAL VILLAGE, LLC v. MELISSA PHILLIPS et al., SC 19762
Housing Session at New Haven
Summary Process; Whether Trial Court Properly Invoked Equity in Ruling that Tenant Could Keep Dog. The defendant leases a New Haven apartment under a lease subsidized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HUD-approved lease prohibits tenants from having pets on the premises without written permission of the landlord, except when necessary as a reasonable accommodation for a tenant’s disability. The plaintiff brought this summary process action alleging that the defendant violated the lease by keeping a dog in the apartment without written permission. The defendant claimed that the dog provided comfort to her nieces and nephews who also live in the apartment and suffer from emotional problems, and she produced a letter from a social worker and a doctor requesting a special accommodation allowing the defendant to keep the dog in the apartment due to its therapeutic benefits to the family. The trial court rendered judgment for the defendant, finding that she had followed the “spirit” of the HUD regulations and that she had established that the dog acts as a therapy dog for a child in the apartment. The court invoked its equitable power in ruling for the defendant, noting that it had weighed the harm to the plaintiff caused by the dog’s continued presence with the harm that would come to the child from removal of the dog. The plaintiff appeals, claiming that the trial court abused its discretion in ruling for the defendant because she does not qualify for an accommodation under either the letter or the spirit of the HUD regulations. The plaintiff argues that the HUD regulations apply only in situations where there is a “physical or mental impairment” that “substantially limits a major life activity,” that the spirit of the law requires accommodations only when a disability is a life-changing illness or disease and that there was no evidence here as to the nature or extent of the family’s alleged emotional problems. The plaintiff also argues that, as it had no notice that the trial court was going to take equitable factors into consideration, it was denied any opportunity to present evidence of the equitable considerations underlying its no-pet policy.