There is often confusion about when animals must be accommodated when owned by a handicapped owner who applies for an exception to a pet rule.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability.
The FHA makes it unlawful for a person to refuse "to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
"Handicap" is defined as: "a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities."
To qualify for a reasonable accommodation:
1. Tenant or homeowner must have a disability, and
2. Reasonable Accommodation must be necessary to afford an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling
A person with a disability must show a link between his/her disability and the task the animal provides. Examples include:
1. Guiding individuals with visual impairment;
2. Alerting individuals who are hard of hearing;
3. Providing protection or rescue assistance;
4. Pulling a wheelchair;
5. Alerting to impending seizures;
6. Providing emotional support for persons with a disability-related need for such support. (Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities, 73 FR 63834.01
Let’s look at definitions from the regulations:
Service Animal: Any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The service animal learns to recognize and respond to the person’s environment and actions
Emotional Support/Comfort/Assistance Animal: Any animal that provides emotional support, well-being, or companionship that alleviates the symptoms of disability; not individually trained. Emotional support animals have been proven to help diminish the symptoms of disabilities by providing therapeutic nurture and support.
Under the FHA, emotional support animals are not limited to dogs and can be any species of animal.
The housing provider must waive any pet fees or pet deposits. But, if the animal causes damage, the tenant or homeowner may be required to pay the repair costs.
If a request for a reasonable accommodation is received the Board must consider the following:
1. 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?
2. Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, 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 FHAct does not require a modification to a provider’s "no pets" policy, and the reasonable accommodation request may be denied.
Where the answers to questions (1) and (2) are "yes," the FHAct and Section 504 require the housing provider to modify or provide an exception to a "no pets" rule or policy to permit a person with a disability to live with and use an assistance animal(s) in all areas of the premises where persons are normally allowed to go, unless doing so would impose an undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services.