An “Assistance Animal” 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. It is not a pet. This is the definition set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) and is a distinctly different definition from a “Service Animal” as set forth under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Again, Service Animals are limited to dogs and sometimes miniature horses and excludes “Emotional Service Animals”. The ADA primarily addresses public places. HUD addresses residential rental properties, private or public. Furthermore, assistance animals do not necessarily require special training and can be any kind of animal.
The purpose of the FHAct is to permit Persons with disabilities to be able to request a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal. When a housing provider receives such a request he/she must consider:
- Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability?
- Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal?
If the answer to number 1 or 2 above is no, then no accommodation need be made. If the answers to numbers one and two above are in the affirmative, then you must provide an exception to your “no pets” rule unless doing so would cause an undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services. Unlike the ADA and the Service Animal provisions, if a disability is not readily apparent for someone seeking an exception to your “no pets” policy, you can request the person to provide reliable documentation of the disability and their disability related need for an assistance animal.
This is a summary of the law and reference should be made to https://www.hud.gov/sites/documents/SERVANIMALS_NTCFHEO2013-01.PDF for more specific information. In addition, a consult with an attorney prior to addressing these types of issues is strongly recommended for your own protection.