Fair Housing Act – Service/Emotional Support Animals

My last post, Service Animals/Emotional Support Animals – What You Need to Know, discussed what you need to know about service and emotional support animals if you own rental properties. We’ve covered the rules set forth by the ADA, but there are 2 agencies that make regulations regarding these animals:

  1. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  2. Fair Housing Act (FAA)

Here we discuss additional rules set forth by the FHA. Note that the ADA covers commercial premises that the FHA covers residential premises. Also, the ADA does not cover emotional support animals, but the FHA does.

Fair Housing Act – Protects tenants from landlord discrimination. Prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability.

The Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 (FAA):

  • Assistance Animal – An animal that acts, provides assistance, or performs tasks for a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates the symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.
  • An assistance animal does not have to be individually trained or certified
  • Once an assistance animal is approved, the landlord is not required to pay any related pet fees or deposits.
  • An owner is not permitted to place weight or breed restrictions on a service animal.

What you might want:

  • The tenant or resident must have a disability within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act.
  • There must be a need for an animal related to the disability

Allowed questions:

  • Is the disability visible or known?
  • Has the animal’s disability-related needs been observed or recognized?
  • If both the disability and the person with the disability are clear and aware of the need for an animal, they cannot ask any further questions and require no further proof or documentation.
  • If the disability is invisible or unknown, you can request reliable documentation of the disability and the disability-related assistance animal.

For emotional support animals, you may request documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more known symptoms or effects of the animal’s disability.

You can decline an accommodation request when:

  • It causes undue financial problems on the property
  • It creates an administrative burden on the property
  • The particular animal will be a direct threat to the property or will cause significant physical damage to the property
  • If there is no sufficient proof when the disability is not visible

The host/tenant can ask you about their animal in any way, including something as simple as writing their request on a sticky note. There is no standard request form and you cannot request to use one that you have created.

Your next step is to ask for written confirmation from your doctor or medical provider. Again, it doesn’t need to be in a specific form. You must receive verification from a credible third party that the applicant has a disability within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act and that there is a need for a pet related to the disability.

Without sufficient proof, they can reject the applicant. And – beware – there are many online sites that offer certificates without asking for proof of disability.

How the ADA and FHAA differ:

  • The ADA applies to places of public accommodation. It does not apply to areas of the property that are not open to the public. (Service animals must be checked into the leasing office.)
  • The FHAA applies to the entire property. (Eligible service and emotional support animals must be allowed to live in your rental property.)

As a landlord, most of your concerns are about regulations set forth by the FHAA.

Wow, there is a lot in those 2 posts. What is your experience with service animals?

As I mentioned in a previous post, this topic was covered at our Landlords Association meeting. If you have further questions on this matter or require legal assistance, contact our speaker – Attorney Sean Doyle; sdoyle@oslawnc.com919-256-4295.

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