The Federal Fair Housing Act, the Americans with
Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) protect
persons with physical and/or mental disabilities. These same laws
prohibit discrimination against tenants with service or support
animals. The courts take this seriously and it is a huge liability to
refuse to rent to a qualified handicapped person with a legitimate
service or support animal. Fair Housing laws are very definitive
regarding service animals. There are now other terminologies such as
emotional support animals, companion animals, and psychiatric service
animals. This can lead to a lot of confusion and misinformation for
property owners when it comes to the various support animals and rental
animal is one individually trained to do work or
perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability,
including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other
mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things,
pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a
sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator
button. The Federal Fair Housing laws are specific regarding service
animals. Service animals have also been referred to as assistance or
assist animals, support animals, guide animals, and hearing animals.
support animal is a companion animal that provides
therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric
disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a
verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for
companionship). Fair Housing views these animals as a "reasonable
accommodation" and a "no pets" rule does not apply.
To qualify, a person must meet the federal definition of
disability and must have a note from a physician or other medical
professional stating that a person has a disability and that the
reasonable accommodation (here, the emotional support animal) provides
benefit for the individual with the disability. The emotional support
animal alleviates or mitigates some of the symptoms of the disability.
Companion or emotional support animals differ from service animals
because no specific training of the animal is required.
service dog is one that assists people with psychiatric
disabilities, such as severe depression, anxiety disorders, and
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The key distinction to remember
is that a psychiatric service animal trained to perform certain tasks
directly related to an individual's psychiatric disability. The dog's
primary role is not to provide emotional support but to assist the owner
with the accomplishment of vital tasks they otherwise would not be able
to perform independently.
Under the Fair
Housing Acts, here are some of the rules that apply to service or
- Any type of
legitimate support or service animal is legally NOT a
owners and property managers cannot require or take additional
deposits or pet deposits because of a support or service animal.
owners and/or managers can require any tenant, including the
disabled, to qualify for properties based on income, rental
history, and credit. They do not have to accept poor tenancy
because an applicant is handicapped or has a service animal or
- If a tenant
compromises the safety of other tenants or their property, if the
animal poses a danger to other tenants, or the tenant does not
qualify under the statutes, property owners and/or managers do not
have to allow the tenant in their rental units.
owners and/or managers must be very careful not to apply their own
standard on determining whether a companion animal is justified.
on the classification of the disability and specific law, an
animal does not necessarily have to be a dog.
owners and/or managers can ask for simple verification of the
disability and the need for the animal as treatment if the
disability is not obvious.
There is so much more to service or support animals than
can be covered in this article and this is not meant as legal advice.
If questions or problems arise, legal counsel versed in Fair Housing
law should be consulted. What is important is that investors or
managers who ignore or violate Fair Housing laws regarding any
assistance animal are at very high risk. As your property management
company, we take this subject seriously and work to follow all Fair
Housing legislation and developments.