The definition of comfort is simply the easing of a person's feelings of grief or distress. We all know how to get our own comfort—from hugging a loved one to a grilled cheese sandwich and soup. It might come from a favorite quilt wrapped around you in front of a fireplace, or the purring of your favorite four-legged beast. "Comfort animals"—which are different than service pets—have become quite the rage in this decade, but, sadly, some people don't find them so comforting.
A comfort animal is at the core of rare claims by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) against Utah landlords. In my 32 years as a real estate broker, I can think of about a handful of cases that I've read about, so it's pretty unusual to hear about a new case filing. HUD randomly tests landlords by sending in phony tenants or buyers to check if companies are complying with fair-housing laws.
In this story, HUD has just announced that the owner and manager of the Pine Cove Apartments at 1243 E. Alameda Ave., has allegedly violated the Fair Housing Act by denying reasonable accommodation requests to potential renters with disabilities. A woman and her 10-pound dog were denied a lease, even though she had a doctor's note stating the animal was there for emotional support. She was supposedly told by the landlord that other tenants are allergic to dogs or don't like dogs. The complainant went to the proper authorities who conducted a sting operation at the property and each time it was found that there appeared to be discrimination going on against people with disabilities. The case will go to trial. If found guilty, the landlord could pay some big bucks in fines.
Anyone can get a certificate online saying their favorite miniature pig, cat, dog, horse, snake or turtle is a comfort or assistance animal. For a landlord, a letter from a doctor is pretty clear evidence there's a need for the animal.
Know, though, that during this time of year when many people travel, airlines have strict rules for your comfort pets when traveling with you. Effective this fall, Delta Airlines prohibits warm-blooded animals on flights longer than 12 hours. If your flight is shorter, you can carry on a small pet that fits under your seat for a $125 fee. Other rules apply, depending on the size, weight and breed of the animal, so make sure to check those before planning your next trip.
If you're a landlord, don't even think you can ban such an animal from your property if a tenant qualifies to lease.