Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) covers both public and private housing and protects against housing discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, and having children in the home under 18.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) provides people with disabilities the right to have assistance animals in their homes. Assistance animals will generally fall into two categories: emotional support animals and service animals.
Definition of Assistance Animals Covered by the FHA
The definition of an "assistance animal" in the FHA is "an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability." Under the FHA, the animal does not have to be individually trained or certified.
Difference Between ADA Service Animal Definition and FHA Assistance Animal Definition
The FHA's definition is much broader than the ADA’s definition of a service animal, which is restricted to dogs. Also, the FHA covers both service animals and emotional support animals.
This is a major difference from the ADA definition, as service dogs must be individually trained under the ADA.
Requesting a Service/Emotional Animal
The person with a disability must request to keep a service or emotional support animal from the housing provider before using the animal. The use of a service or emotional support animal is considered a “reasonable accommodation” under the FHA and should be requested in the same manner as any other accommodation. Once the accommodation request is made, housing providers have the right to know:
- if an individual has a disability that significantly affects major life activities.
- that the service animal/emotional support animal is needed to alleviate the symptoms or effects of the disability.
Once it is determined that 1) the individual making the request has a disability as defined by the FHA and 2) needs a service or emotional support animal, then the housing provider must allow the service/emotional support animal to reside with the individual unless it would be unreasonable to do so (See "reasons to deny an assistance animal" below.)
An individual who is blind and uses a guide dog doesn't need to be asked for documentation because both the disability and how the animal is being used to provide assistance are readily apparent.
An individual with PTSD who has an emotional support animal may be asked to provide documentation of both the disability and that the emotional support animal alleviates symptoms of the disability because neither the disability or the need for the emotional support animal is “readily apparent”.
Reasons to Deny an Assistance Animal as an Accommodation
Housing providers do not have to allow an assistance animal if doing so:
- would impose an undue financial and administrative burden or
- would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services.
The request may also be denied if:
- the assistance animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, the assistance animal would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.
- Note! A determination that an assistance animal poses a direct threat of harm to others or would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others must be based on an assessment of the specific animal being requested. A decision should be based on objective evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct –not on mere speculation of fear about the types of harm or damage an animal may cause and not on evidence about harm or damage that other animals have caused.
- Assistance animals may not be denied based upon breed, size, and weight limitations.
- Fees and deposits may not be charged for assistance animals, as they are not considered "pets".
- Landlords do have the right to charge for any damages caused by the animal.
- Landlords can expect a service animal to comply with local requirements for licensing and vaccinations.