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NJ Supreme Court rules in favor of Emotional Support Dog

On March 13, 2024, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the lower courts should not have dismissed a discrimination claim made by a disabled person against a condominium association. The case, Players Place II Condominium Association, Inc. v. K.P, involved an individual, “B.F.” and her spouse, “K.P.” who adopted an emotional support animal, a larger breed dog named Luna. The Players Place Condominium Association, where K.P. owned a unit, had a policy prohibiting pets over 30 pounds in weight. At maturity, Luna weighed around 60 pounds.

The complaint filed by The Condominium Association accused K.P. of violating its animal policies; Defendant K.P. filed a counterclaim that the Association was violating anti-discrimination laws. The trial court initially ruled that B.F., who had suffered from various mental health conditions, should not be considered “handicapped or disabled” under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), nor under federal laws. The defendants’ disability claim was dismissed. The court, on equitable grounds, did allow the defendants to keep Luna. An Appellate Court agreed, although modifying the grounds for dismissal. Upon further appeal, the Supreme Court noted that, under LAD, “Individuals who seek an accommodation must show that they have a disability under the LAD and demonstrate that the requested accommodation may be necessary to afford them an ‘equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.’ N.J.A.C. 13:13-3.4(f)(2).”

Ultimately, the Supreme Court reversed the Appellate judgment and vacated Luna’s owners’ counterclaim. Notably, in Chief Justice Rabner’s opinion, emotional support animals are not to be equated with pets in respect to association rules. Justice Rabner emphasized the importance of unit owners/renters having an open and good-faith dialogue with management in an attempt to reach an agreement before filing suit. The remaining issue was whether the specific accommodation that B.F. requested, namely having a dog larger than what the association permitted, was unreasonable. The case has been remanded back to the Law Division.

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