Is it a Pet or an Assistance Animal

Posted by Catherine Cownie on Thursday, April 25, 2019

In recent years, the number of requests for assistance and emotional support animals has increased significantly.  Landlords and people managing senior housing facilities ignore or flatly deny such requests at their own peril.  For purposes of housing, these requests need to be treated very differently than if a resident seeks to bring a pet into the home.  The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has provided some very specific guidance about when a request for an assistive animal must be granted.  As detailed in the attached ICRC Fact Sheet, under the Fair Housing Act, there are two questions that may be asked upon presentation of a request for an assistive animal to a landlord:

  1. Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability?  This could be a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  2. Does the person making the request have a disability related need for an assistance animal?

It is also important to note that the landlord may not deny the request for an assistance animal merely because of the size or type of animal.  A rat or a snake may serve as an emotional support animal just the same as a dog would.  If the answers to the questions above are yes, there are only a limited number of circumstances under which a request for an assistive animal could be denied. 

Anyone who is a landlord and/or who is operating a facility subject to landlord-tenant requirements should be aware of these regulations.  Often, an update to the rental policies and the development of forms is required in order to adequately address these issues.  Furthermore, training may be necessary to ensure that your staff receiving such requests and adequately reviewing them under the law.  For more information on this topic, please check out the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s Fact Sheet or contact a member of BrownWinick’s Health Law Group to discuss.

https://icrc.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/2015/AssistanceAnimalsFactSheet.pdf