The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled in a first-of-its-kind involving accommodations by landlords for those with specials needs.

The case involved Karen Cohen, who has medically documented severe allergies and moved into an apartment in Iowa City with a “no pets” policy. Two months later David Clark moved in and asked for a waiver to allow his emotional support dog to live with him.

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission informally advised the landlord that moving Clark to another building that allowed pets would not be a reasonable accommodation for his situation.  The landlord tried to work with both, and allowed the emotional support dog on the premises while requiring the two tenants to use different stairways and provided an air purifier for Cohen.  But that failed to prevent her from suffering allergic attacks.

She sued the landlord and her neighboring tenant in small claims court for breach of the lease’s no-pets provision and interference with the quiet enjoyment of her apartment. The district court concluded the landlord should have denied the emotional support dog request due to the other tenant’s pet allergies but dismissed the case due to the uncertainty of the law governing reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals.

The Supreme Court ruling reverses the district court, saying there is no law in Iowa or any other jurisdiction that clearly establishes how landlords should handle reasonable accommodation. The court says Cohen was the first to move into the apartment and in this particular case that should be the factor used to determine the outcome. It also says the dog’s presence posed a direct threat to Cohen’s health.

The Supreme Court says the ruling “is based on the specific facts of this case. Our balancing in this case is not a one-size-fits-all test that will create the same result under different circumstances, such as when the animal at issue is a service animal for a visually disabled person.”

Here is the full ruling: Supreme Court Allergies Ruling PDF