If you or someone in your family has a disability that requires the use of a service animal, a request for a reasonable accommodation can be made to your housing provider. The following information is to help you to determine if you qualify for a reasonable accommodation.
What is the definition of disability?
Under fair housing laws, a person is considered to be disabled if s/he has a sensory, mental or physical condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, seeing, hearing, working, etc.). A qualified person with a disability has a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment. Some people have a disability-related need for an assistance animal to assist them with the functional limitations caused by their disabilities.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, a person with a disability who needs an assistance animal that provides disability-related assistance may request that a housing provider afford a reasonable accommodation.
What is the definition of a Reasonable Accommodation?
Reasonable accommodations are changes in rules, policies, practices or services that are necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
Two threshold questions must be addressed when a tenant/homeowner asks for an assistance animal:
- Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability i.e. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
- Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? Does the animal work, provide assistance perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?
- If the answer to question (1) or (2) is “no”, then the law does not require a modification of an existing “no-pets” policy, and the reasonable accommodation request may be denied.
The Department of Housing and Urban Developments (HUD) regulations governing the Fair Housing Act do not provide a specific definition of the term ‘‘service animal.’’ Generally speaking, service animals are assistance animals that are “trained to perform certain services or tasks for persons with disabilities. Examples include, but are not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching items.”
Emotional support animals:
An emotional support animal, often referred to as a companion animal, is defined as an assistance animal, “the presence of which ameliorates the effects of a mental or emotional disability.” According to HUD, “emotional support animals provide very private functions for persons with mental and emotional disabilities”.
Can a housing provider verify that an assistance animal is necessary?
Yes. Housing providers are entitled to verify:
- the existence of the disability if it is not readily apparent, and
- the need for the accommodation if it is not readily apparent.
For example, if you are seeking a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal, you may be required to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides support that alleviates at least one of your disability symptoms or effects of the existing disability.
If your landlord or manager asks for this verification, you should obtain a signed letter from your doctor or other medical professional, or other qualified third party who, in their professional capacity, has knowledge about your disability and your need for a reasonable accommodation.
NOTE: A verification letter stating that the service animal would be “nice” or “helpful” is insufficient.
You do not have to provide details about your disability or about the specific tasks the assistance animal performs.
There are substantial fines and imprisonment for anyone who makes false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or entries in any matter within the jurisdiction of the Federal Government (180USC 1001). Any person who knowingly and materially violates any required disclosure of information, including intentionally non-disclosure, is subject to civil money penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each violation.
When can a housing provider deny an assistance animal?
Housing providers are not required to provide a reasonable accommodation that is unnecessary or that would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Thus, if the particular animal requested by the individual with a disability has a history of dangerous behavior, the housing provider does not have to accept the animal into the housing.
Animal Care and Supervision
You are responsible for the care of your assistance animal. You must supervise your animal and retain full control of it at all times. This means that while the animal is in common areas, it is on a leash, in a carrier, or otherwise in your direct control. When in the presence of others, the animal is expected to be well behaved (not jumping on or nipping at people, not snarling or barking, etc.). Municipalities may also have specific ordinances that govern the supervision of a pet or assistance animal.
Removal of Assistance Animal
If an assistance animal is unruly or disruptive (aggressively jumping, nipping, etc.), the manager may ask the resident remove the animal from a common area. If the animal’s inappropriate behavior happens repeatedly, the manager may request that the resident not bring the animal into common areas until steps have been taken to mitigate the behavior (such as refresher training), or ask that the animal be removed from the residential premises.
Some insurance carriers refuse to cover a rental property, substantially increase the cost of coverage, or adversely change the terms of their policies if a person with a disability resides in the rental dwelling with an assistance animal that is a breed of dog that the carrier considers dangerous.
HUD and the U.S. Department of Justice have issued a joint statement on “Reasonable
Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act”. This statement notes that an accommodation is unreasonable if it imposes an undue financial and administrative burden on a housing provider's operations. If an insurance carrier would cancel, increase policy costs, or adversely change policy terms because of the presence of a certain breed of dog or a certain animal, HUD states that this imposes an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider.