People argue for and against pets. Service animals in rentals are entirely different. The issue has been confusing in the past. Definitions of what is a, service, emotional support, assistance, or therapy animal have been confusing.
In January of this year (2020) the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued revised guidelines to assist in assessing a person’s request for accommodation of assistance animals. This is an update to the prior guidance from 2013.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act have been a source of confusion. These are two separate laws. The ADA regulates access to public places with service animals. The FHA covers nearly all types of housing with few exceptions. Owners and managers of rental properties need to focus on the FHA. A basic understanding of the ADA helps guide owners and managers in assessing a person’s request for accommodation.
Allowing an accommodation under the ADA
The Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces the ADA. It enables disabled people to access public spaces with a service animal. It doesn’t concern itself with housing.
The DOJ has specified that a service animal is a dog. People train service animals for specific tasks. Service animals perform specific tasks. Tasks the dog might perform would include: alerting diabetics when their blood sugar is too low, reminding someone to take their medication, and warning an epileptic person when they are about to have a seizure, and aiding in their safety. These are not all the tasks that an ADA qualified dog could perform.
Why care about the ADA if it doesn’t regulate housing? The FHA regulates housing. The FHA accepts ADA service animals without condition.
What you can ask the tenant. Why is a dog a service animal?
The dog guides a blind person. It stabilizes a person with an obvious mobility issue. The dog performs a similar task. So, don’t ask further about the disability or the animal.
If the dog’s benefit isn’t apparent, ask if the animal is required because of a disability. Ask how the animal assists. Don’t ask about the person’s disability or for proof of it. Emotional support is not a task or work under the ADA. Ask how the animal assists.
If the animal is not required because of a disability or has not been trained to perform a task, or work, it’s not an ADA service animal. It doesn’t have to be approved for those reasons. However, even if the animal doesn’t qualify under the ADA, that doesn’t mean it won’t qualify under the FHA. Further consideration under the guidelines of the FHA is required.
Allowing animals under the FHA
Qualification for an accommodation under the FHA is not as straightforward as it is under the ADA. The ADA requires a dog. It must work, and it must perform a specific task.
Under Fair Housing Act (FHA) guidelines, the animal doesn’t have to be a dog. The animal doesn’t need specific training. The animal’s emotional support can alleviate one or more symptoms or effects of a disability.
Use the term Assistance Animal when thinking of the FHA. Assistance animals do not have to be a dog. Assistance animals can do work, perform tasks, and provide assistance. In addition, the animal can also provide emotional support. Emotional support enables the person to overcome a physical or mental problem in a major life activity or bodily function.
Emotional support is the obvious difference between the ADA and the FHA. Some examples of “emotional support” are:
- Stopping or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors
- Reminding a person with a mental illness to take medication
- Calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Helping a person deal with disability-related stress or pain.
- Helping a person leave their home.
- Assistance animals give people a reason to live.
Can you see the disability? If not, has the person asking for the accommodation provided information that reasonably supports that the person has a disability? If either of these are untrue, the housing provider doesn’t have to grant the accommodation for the animal.
Requests for a reasonable accommodation can be verbal. According to HUD another person can ask also.
The landlord can request information about the disability, and the need for the animal in relationship to the disability. They aren’t entitled to know a person’s diagnosis.
Information about a person’s disability can come from the following:
- A determination of disability from a government agency.
- A receipt of disability benefits or services.
- Social Security disability Income (SSDI).
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Proof of housing assistance or a housing voucher because of disability
- Confirmation from a physical or mental health professional.
Conditions almost always be defined as a disability:
- Intellectual disabilities
- Partial or missing limbs
- Mobility impairments that require a wheelchair
- Cerebral Palsy
- Muscular dystrophy
- Multiple sclerosis
- HIV infection
- major depressive disorder
- bipolar disorder
- Traumatic brain injury
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Again, the landlord doesn’t have the right to know a person’s diagnosis. She is not required to grant an accommodation if the disability is not obvious and proof of the disability is not provided.
How is the animal related to the disability? Did the applicant supply proof that the assistance animal aids with the disability? The landlord isn’t required to allow an accommodation without evidence the assistance animal helps with the disability.
If the disability is obvious or there is sufficient proof of it, and the assistance animal helps with it, the next thing to consider is what type of animal it is. Granting the accommodation if the animal is common, like a pet, is best.
Sometimes an unusual animal will need to be allowed. Some people are allergic to dogs. An animal can be trained to perform specific tasks that others cannot. The unusual animal can be necessary to prevent the worsening of a person’s condition.
The unusual animal is uniquely trained to perform tasks a common domesticated animal cannot. It’s also okay to request further proof to show the relevance of the animal to the applicant’s disability.
This was only an effort to outline the process in making exceptions to a “no pets” policy for disabled persons. This isn’t to be a legal decision making guide and isn’t all inclusive.
It’s obvious that assistance animals are a very touchy subject. No one wants to tangle with the federal government. No one want a lawsuit either.
This doesn’t mean a rental owner has no rights at all. It means that there’s a method to granting an accommodation. There’s a process. As with any legal issue consult an expert like Jacobgrant Property Management or an attorney.
To learn more about how Jacob Grant can help you navigate your way through assistance animals, call 208-795-8218 or schedule a call Schedule call