Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals in Renting

If you live in the United States, you might be shocked to learn that more than eighty-five million families own a pet in America. That is a whopping sixty-eight percent of households, which is well over half!

While many of us got these pets to be beloved members of our family, for other people, they got their pets for an entirely different and necessary reason, and the value of their furry friend goes far beyond companionship.  What we’re referring to here is, of course, Service Animals.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to: Assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship are not considered work or tasks under the definition of a service animal.”

While service animals provide legitimate assistance to those with disabilities, the controversy related to emotional support animals continues to generate headlines as people take advantage of the easy access to getting your pet certified as an emotional support animal. People seek a “prescription” that includes everything from hamsters to peacocks and even pigs in order to be able to get rental properties they might not otherwise be qualified to rent because they own pets.

Where does that leave property owners who find themselves in a situation where a tenant is seeking an exception to the “no-pets” policy?

The Arizona Association of Realtors states, “Title 42 of the United States Code requires that landlords ‘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.’ Simply put, property owners may be required to waive a ‘no pets’ policy if the tenant meets the criteria under the Fair Housing Act.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued FHEO-2013-01 which states:

Housing providers are to evaluate a request for a reasonable accommodation to possess an assistance animal in a dwelling using the general principles applicable to all reasonable accommodation requests.  After receiving such a request, the housing provider must consider the following:

  • Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability – , a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  • 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 and Section 504 do not require a modification to a provider’s “no pets” policy, and the reasonable accommodation request may be denied.

When faced with this kind of housing request as a landlord, it’s important to know that the tenant must show their need is connected to their disability and the request is reasonable.  You are allowed to ask them to show the animal is necessary for their particular disability, but you are not allowed to deny them tenancy. According to the FHA, an accommodation is reasonable if it doesn’t impose an undue financial or administrative burden.  Making the wrong decision could violate the law and potentially require you as the landlord to have to pay damages to the disabled renter.

 

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