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I am often asked what a landlord should do is a tenant wants to have a companion animal. The short answer is that the landlord needs to be very careful. After all, the landlord does not want to violate and be subject to the civil penalties of the Americans with Disability Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Typically, the lease prohibits the tenant from possessing pets in the rental property, but the tenant makes a request for reasonable accommodation, either through a letter from a doctor or other mental health professional or through a letter or note from the tenant. In the letter, the landlord is asked – as a reasonable accommodation – to allow the tenant to have a pet in the rental property, despite the prohibition on pets in the lease.

To make a request for a reasonable accommodation under the law, the tenant must:

1. Show that they have a disability;

2. Request a specific change in the rule; and

3. Explain how this change is necessary to accommodate the disability in order to make the housing accessible, to fully use the home, or to reduce the negative effects of the disability.

Homeline, The Landlord's Guide to Minnesota Law, p. 35, [publication date unavailable].

The landlord's duty to take action is not triggered unless and until the tenant submits a request for reasonable accommodation that meets the requirements of the law's criteria.  Id. however, I would generally encourage landlords to err on the side of caution and construe a request for a companion animal reasonably.

It is important, for purposes of determining whether a tenant has made a request for reasonable at accommodation, to differentiate between service animals and companion animals.  "Service animals are dogs or on other animals [that have been trained by a certified training agency and] meet certain certifications. A companion animal does not have to be certified and can be almost any type of animal."  Id.

Landlords have to be very cautious and make sure to follow the law when addressing a request for reasonable accommodation. I do not think that any landlord would want to be exposed to the potential liability that can come from violating the law and discriminating against a tenant.

Every landlord – tenant situation is unique, and I recommend that landlords talk to an attorney experienced in evictions and landlord tenant law before taking action based on this blog post.  To that end, I invite landlords to give me a call at 763-450-9494 to discuss their unique situation. The first thing I will ask you is what you want to have happen because, ultimately, the landlord is in control. I have represented many landlords, but typically do not represent tenants.

WARNING: The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Tim is licensed to practice law only in Minnesota, and the information contained in this blog post may not apply to jurisdictions outside of Minnesota.  Further, reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.







 
 
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I am often asked if a person can get Social Security disability benefits if that person is under the age of 50 years old. If you are over 50 but not yet retirement age, Social Security basically considers you un-trainable, and you have a better chance of receiving disability benefits. You might be able to get disability benefits if you are close to 50, because Social Security considers that you are rapidly approaching age 50 (where you are supposedly untrainable).

The short answer is yes, it is possible for a person to get Social Security disability if that person is under the age of 50, but it is very difficult. There are two primary ways that a person who is under the age of 50 can get disability benefits.

First, if the applicant meets a listing for Social Security disability, Social Security will consider the applicant to be disabled, regardless of age, and will award benefits. Social Security has certain listings or criteria for considering someone to be disabled. If you meet the requirements of a listing, Social Security will consider you disabled, even if you are under the age of 50.  However, you must meet the requirements and criteria of a listing exactly, and the listings are very stringent. As a result, very few people who are under the age of 50 will meet the requirements of a listing.

Second, a person who is under the age of 50 may "grid." Social security uses a grid or table to decide if an applicant is disabled. Social Security will consider the applicant's age, skill level of past work, and something called residual functional capacity (basically meaning the skill level and type of work that an applicant is now capable of performing). However, most of the time, the grid will direct a finding that an applicant who is under the age of 50 is not disabled.

For all of these reasons, it is very difficult – although not impossible – for an applicant under the age of 50 to be awarded disability benefits. Such an applicant should expect that the initial application and request for reconsideration will be denied, and that the applicant will have to appeal and have the hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ for short.

If the ALJ denies the application for disability benefits, the applicant should be prepared to appeal to the Appeals Council if necessary, and recommended by the applicant's attorney. The next step in the appeals process beyond the Appeals Council is suing the Social Security administration in Federal District Court.

I would recommend that an applicant for Social Security disability benefits hire an attorney for the initial application and ensuing appeals process. The applicant should be patient, because the appeals process may very well take one, two, three, or more years to complete.

Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. represents applicants for social security benefits at all stages of the application and appeals process.  Please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an initial consultation to discuss your case and options.

WARNING: The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Tim is licensed to practice law only in Minnesota, and the information contained in this blog post may not apply to jurisdictions outside of Minnesota.  Further, reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.






 
 
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Applicants for social security benefits frequently ask if they should have an attorney represent them in the application and appeals process.  From my perspective, the short answer is yes, for two reasons.

First, you typically hire the attorney on a contingent-fee basis of 25% of past-due benefits, or $6,000.00, whichever is less.  That means that you don’t pay any money out-of-pocket, except for expenses, and that the attorney does not get paid unless you prevail.

Second, the law related to social security benefits is mind-numbingly complex, and you need an attorney to navigate the maze of laws, regulations, and cases that govern social security, apply the law to the facts of your case, put the facts most favorable to you forward, and zealously represent you in your application and at all stages of appeal.

Some people want to file the application for disability benefits on their own, and then hire an attorney for the appeal. However, I do not think this is a wise course of action. You probably have a better chance of getting disability benefits with an attorney on your side than on your ownIt is to your benefit to hire an attorney before you submit a disability application. Your application will probably be better because you have an attorney, and although there is no guarantee that you will receive disability benefits, your application stands a better chance with an attorney than without.

So, you really have nothing to lose by hiring an attorney to represent you.  Some people apparently believe that you should apply for social security benefits by yourself the first time, when you do the initial application, but then hire an attorney if your application is denied.  I have to disagree with this notion, because you’re better off with an attorney representing you from the beginning.  The ultimate attorney fee might be less, but I’d rather see you qualify for benefits sooner  After all, the focus is on you, not the attorney.

Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. represents applicants for social security benefits at all stages of the application and appeals process.  Please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an initial consultation to discuss your case and options.

 
 
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If you are receiving, applying for, or appealing a denial of an application for social security disability benefits, you are provably wondering what effect the partial federal government shutdown will have on you.  The short answer is that it depends on where you are in the process.

If you are already receiving benefits under social security disability or supplemental security income, your benefits will continue.  More specifically, the Social Security Administration has stated "Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments to beneficiaries will continue with no change in payment dates."  As such, if you are already receiving benefits, I wouldn't worry -- at least not now -- about your benefits being suddenly cut off.

If you have already applied for benefits and are awaiting a decision, or if you are about to apply for benefits, I expect that you will experience a delay in the processing of your application.  State disability determination offices, which make the initial determination of whether a person is disabled for purposes of receiving social security disability benefits, are funded at least in part by the Social Security Administration.

In a letter dated September 25, 2013 to the Office of Management and Budget, the Social Security Administration stated:

If we have a lapse in appropriations, we will encourage the [State] Disability Determination Services (DDSs) to continue limited services during a lapse . . . However, because DDS employees are State employees, we cannot direct the States to except or furlough their employees during a lapse. Each State will have to determine whether it can maintain limited DDS operations and pay its employees during a lapse.

I think it's fair to say that the further along in the process you are, the less of a delay you will experience.  In other words, if you submitted your application and disability determination services is currently evaluating your claim, then any delay that you experience will be less than someone who has just submitted an application.  If you just submitted an application, state disability determination services will process all applications that are pending and those applications that have been received before your application.

If you are appealing a denial of your application for social security disability benefits, the answer depends on if you already have a hearing scheduled.  On the one hand, if your hearing has already been scheduled, then the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review will hear your case as scheduled, but you may experience a delay in having your case resolved..  On the other hand, if you have appealed but your hearing has not been scheduled, then you will experience even more of a delay than usual (I usually tell claimants that it will take over a year) in being assigned a hearing date and in resolving your case.  Regardless of whether or not you have a hearing already scheduled, you can reasonably expect delays in getting a written decision.

If you have appealed to the Appeals Council after being denied at the hearing level, then you should expect that your appeal will take even longer than usual.  Typically, I tell claimants that an appeal to the Appeals Council will take at least a year, and probably longer.  The delay that you experience will depend, at least in part, on the length of the government shutdown.

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I will monitor the government shutdown and post an update as conditions warrant.  In the meantime, the Social Security Administration has a webpage that described the effect of the government shutdown on field offices and other social security services.  I encourage you to visit that webpage for more information, especially if you are planning to visit a Field Offices because the services offered there are limited during the government shutdown.  At any rate, here is a link for you:

http://www.socialsecurity.gov/shutdown/

Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. represents applicants and appellants in all stages of social security proceedings, from initial applications to appeals.  Please call (763) 450-9494 to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation today!

WARNING: The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.



 
 
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INTRODUCTION

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) administers two programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).  Although a detailed discussion of the criteria you must meet to be eligible for benefits under either program is beyond the scope of this article, SSDI is generally for persons who are permanently and totally disabled according to SSA’s definition of disability and unable to work, but have accumulated sufficient work credits from working to be eligible for benefits.  SSI is generally for persons who are older than age 65, blind, or disabled.

APPEALS

If you have applied for Social Security Benefits but your application has been denied, you can appeal that the denial, but you must act quickly because you only have 60 days from the date printed on the denial letter to appeal.  There are four levels of appeal: (1.) Request for Reconsideration; (2.) Hearing; (3.) Appeals Council; and (4.) District Court.  Each of these levels of appeal will now be discussed in more detail.

1. REQUEST FOR RECONSIDERATION

If your initial application for benefits is denied, you can submit a Request for Reconsideration (“RFR”).  By submitting an RFR, you are asking SSA to have an agent other than the agent that denied you benefits in the first place review your application.  The new agent will completely review your file, as well as any additional information that you submit, such as more recent medical records.  Generally, the reconsideration occurs without a hearing, although if you are appealing a denial of benefits because SSA says that you are no longer disabled, you may have to appear before a SSA agent to explain why you are still disabled.

2. HEARING

If your RFR is denied, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).  Again, you must act quickly, because you only have a limited amount of time to request a hearing.  After you request a hearing, SSA may ask you to produce additional information in support of your application for benefits.  You may submit additional information, and you may be required to an independent medical, psychological, or vocational examination.

At the hearing, the ALJ will question you, your witnesses, and SSA’s witnesses about your disability and other qualifications for benefits.  There may adverse witnesses from or on behalf of SSA who will testify against your claim, but you or your representative will have the opportunity to question those adverse witnesses.  After the hearing is concluded, the ALJ will issue a determination of your eligibility for benefits.  The ALJ will take into account all of the evidence submitted in support of your application, including your testimony, the testimony of any witnesses on your behalf, the testimony of any adverse witnesses, all of the evidence already in the file, and any additional evidence that you have submitted in support of your application for benefits.

3. APPEALS COUNCIL

If the ALJ denies your application, you may appeal the denial to the Appeals Council.  Your case will be reviewed by an Appeals Analyst, who will review all of the information in your file and then make a recommendation to an Appeals Judge or Appeals Officer.  The Appeals Judge or Appeals Officer will consider all of the information in your file, the ALJ’s decision, the reasons for the ALJ’s decision, the reasons for the original denial of your application for benefits, and the recommendation of the Appeals Analyst.  After considering all of these factors, the Appeals Judge or Appeals Officer will issue a decision either granting or denying your application and explaining the reasons why your application was granted or denied.

4. FEDERAL COURT

The last stage in the appeals process is filing a lawsuit in federal district court.  Again, you must file your lawsuit within the period of time listed on your denial letter from the Appeals Council.  Very few applicants get to this point, so I won’t discuss it in detail.  However, suffice it to say that filing a lawsuit in federal district is an extremely complex and difficult process, and you are well advised to seek out the services of an attorney to represent you.

ATTORNEYS

Applicants for social security benefits frequently ask if they should have an attorney represent them in the application and appeals process.  From my perspective, the short answer is yes, for two reasons.  First, you typically hire the attorney on a contingent-fee basis of 25% of past-due benefits, or $6,000.00, whichever is less.  That means that you don’t pay any money out-of-pocket, except for expenses, and that the attorney does not get paid unless you prevail.  Second, the law related to social security benefits is mind-numbingly complex, and you need an attorney to navigate the maze of laws, regulations, and cases that govern social security, apply the law to the facts of your case, put the facts most favorable to you forward, and zealously represent you in your application and at all stages of appeal.

So, you really have nothing to lose by hiring an attorney to represent you.  Some people apparently believe that you should apply for social security benefits by yourself the first time, when you do the initial application, but then hire an attorney if your application is denied.  I have to disagree with this notion, because you’re better off with an attorney representing you from the beginning.  The ultimate attorney fee might be less, but I’d rather see you qualify for benefits sooner  After all, the focus is on you, not the attorney.

Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. represents applicants for social security benefits at all stages of the application and appeals process.  Please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an initial consultation to discuss your case and options.

 
 
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I am often asked whether a person should apply for Social Security Disability benefits or appeal a denial if that person is working.  The short answer is that it depends on whether you are able to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA for short.  In order to be considered disabled under Social Security's rules, you cannot engage in SGA.  If you can perform SGA, by definition you are not disabled.


Generally, you engage in SGA for any month that you have more than $1,040 in gross earnings.  If you earn less than that amount, and can prove that you earn less than that amount, then you should probably apply.  In deciding whether or not you are eligible, Social Security will look at the work you have done in the past, and ask whether you can do that work, or have any transferrable skills that would help you perform less active work.


If you have applied for but been denied Social Security Disability Benefits, but are now working and grossing more than $1,040 per month, then you are in a unique position.  Basically, you were disabled at the time you applied for benefits, but now you are not eligible because you are considered to be performing SGA.  A person in this situation has options, and I would recommend meeting with a Social Security attorney to discuss your options.

Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. represents applicants for social security benefits at all stages of the application and appeals process.  Please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an initial consultation to discuss your case and options.

WARNING: The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.