The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and Emotional Support Animals in Condominiums

Players Place II Condominium Ass’n, Inc. v. K.P., ___ N.J. ___ (2024). This case came to the Supreme Court as of right, due to a dissent in the Appellate Division, as discussed here. In a 6-0 opinion by Chief Justice Rabner (Justice Wainer Apter did not participate), the Court reversed the Appellate Division and laid out standards for applying the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., to emotional support animals in the condominium setting. The case involved an emotional support dog named Luna, whom the Chancery Division had found after a bench trial “ha[d] not been at all disruptive,” “doesn’t bark,” and “is not a nuisance,” and about whom there had been no complaints. But the plaintiff association had a rule against pets that would weigh more than 30 pounds at maturity, and Luna clocked in at a healthy 63 pounds

The Court’s lengthy, careful opinion is well worth reading in full. But the Chief Justice’s first few paragraphs well summarize the case, the first of its kind in New Jersey, and the Court’s ruling:

“In this case, an individual with a disability sought to have an emotional support animal live in her unit at a condominium complex. The condominium association declined the request because it does not allow residents to have pets that weigh more than thirty pounds.

Emotional support animals (ESAs), however, are different from pets and are not subject to general pet policies. ESAs can help people who struggle with mental health issues and other disabilities, and can enable them to function better in their everyday lives.

We now consider for the first time how to evaluate requests of this type under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to 10:5-50. We hold that requests for reasonable accommodations like the one here should be assessed under the following framework: 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. 13:13-33.4(f)(2). Housing providers then have the burden to prove the requested accommodation is unreasonable.

During that process, both sides should engage in a good-faith, interactive dialogue. In the end, if the parties cannot resolve the request, courts may be called on to balance the need for, and benefits of, the requested accommodation against the cost and administrative burdens it presents. Judges will then be able to determine whether the accommodation is reasonable under the LAD.”

The Court relied extensively and persuasively on authorities from other states and from federal courts that “have similarly found that a reasonable accommodation may include the use of an ESA, despite the existence of a rule . . . prohibiting such an animal.” In short, Chief Justice Rabner said, “in a case like this, a resident of a condominium complex is entitled under state and federal law to request an accommodation to a pet policy in order to keep an emotional support animal.” Whether that request is to be granted depends on application of the test that the Court announced. “If a resident has a disability and requests a necessary and reasonable accommodation, a condominium association cannot simply deny the request and prevail by relying on its pet policy. The matter would need to be addressed under the framework outlined above for discrimination claims.”

Because of the unique posture of the case, the Court could not issue a final decision as to whether Luna could stay or had to go. The case was remanded to the Law Division for further proceedings under the standards announced in this opinion. The Supreme Court cautioned, however, that until the Law Division ruled, “the Association may not order defendants to remove Luna from the property.”