Assistance Animals and Fair Housing

Posted by Katie McKain on Monday, August 20, 2018

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prevent discrimination in housing against tenants due to a disability. Even if a lease says “no pets” or restricts the breed, size or weight of pets, Landlords are required to make a “reasonable accommodation” to allow assistance animals, including those that provide emotional support.  However, Landlords should be aware of certain safeguards that exist under the FHA to provide some protection to the Landlord.

What is an Assistance Animal?

An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support to alleviate one or more identified symptoms or effects of a disability. An assistance animal can be a cat, dog, or any other type of companion animal, but does not have to be individually trained or certified. Since assistance animals are not considered pets, a Landlord may not charge a pet deposit for them nor can a Landlord deny allowing such an animal based on breed, size, and weight limitation policies.

Responding to a Request for an Assistance Animal

A Landlord must make an accommodation if the Tenant has a disability and a disability-related need for the assistance animal. A Tenant who requests an accommodation for an assistance animal must provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional stating the Tenant has a disability and explains how the requested animal will provide disability-related assistance or emotional support.  If the Tenant is unable to provide this documentation, the Landlord may deny the request.

If the Tenant provides the required documentation, the Landlord must allow the animal unless doing so would cause an undue financial and administrative burden or would create a hardship to other tenants. For example, if the specific animal would cause substantial physical damage to the property, the Landlord may deny the accommodation. 

Conclusion

Under FHA and HUD guidelines, Landlords are require to modify or make exceptions to their policies or practices to permit an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation when necessary to provide a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit. However, Landlords may request reliable documentation to prove the need for the assistance animal and may deny the request if the Tenant is unable to do so.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your BrownWinick attorney or Katie McKain at mckain@brownwinick.com or 515-242-2433.