Many people with disabilities and/or health-care problems often rely on service animals for assistance with their daily lives. Service animals enhance the quality of life for many people with disabilities.
Landlords who maintain a “no pet” policy may not refuse to rent or prohibit a disabled person from having a service animal within the rental property. Federal law does not require the animal that provides the assistance to be a dog; although most service animals seem to be. There are three important points to consider when renting to a disabled individual with a service animal.
- Service animals, therapy animals, or animal aides all fall into the same category under federal law.
- Service animals are NOT pets and therefore may not be considered as such. Landlords who have strict no-pet policies may not enforce them with regards to service animal.
- Assistance animals are covered under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehab Act Section 504. Be familiar with these laws!
Under the Fair Housing Act, persons with disabilities who are accompanied by a service animal are a protected group. To be an individual protected under the Fair Housing Act; that person must have a disability as defined by the act; the service animal must have a direct function related to the individual’s disability and the request to have the service animal must be reasonable.
According to 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B), a landlord must make “reasonable accommodations” for a disabled tenant to be able to use and enjoy a rental property on an equal basis with tenants who are not disabled. For instance, if a tenant requests to have safety bars installed in the bath-tub, a landlord may not refuse to make such accommodations.
Landlords of subsidized housing may be required to accept service animals; see HUD's updated rules on subsidized housing and service animals.
What can a landlord to do to prevent non-disabled persons from using this law to bring in an ordinary house pet? Unfortunately, there is no law or regulation that provides specifics on what the landlord may or may not do. Only a court decision can actually determine whether a landlord must allow a particular animal. A landlord may ask for “proof” that a service animal is just that but a landlord must be very careful in how the tenant is questioned. Never ask a tenant whether he/she is disabled, what kind of disability he/she has or how severe the disability is. All persons with a disability who require a service animal must be permitted to have that animal regardless of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin under the Fair Housing Act.
Fair housing lawsuits are common and can be easy for the renter to win, so be careful to avoid even the appearance of discrimination.