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Housing with an Assistance Animal

Assistance Animals, Education, Housing

by Corey Lovato, Staff Attorney

If you are a person with a disability and have an animal that performs tasks or provides emotional support at home, you need to know about the Fair Housing Act, or FHA, and assistance animals. For a quick primer on the meaning of assistance animals, check out DRAZ’s previous post. An assistance animal can be either a service animal or an emotional support animal.

What to Know When You’re Moving or Getting an Assistance Animal

Anyone with a service dog can walk into a restaurant or board a bus without providing written documentation about their disability.  So moving into a new home shouldn’t be any different, right? Wrong—the FHA recognizes assistance animals as a “reasonable accommodation.” Basically, permitting an assistance animal is an exception in a housing provider’s normal no-pet or pet rules that gives a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home the same as non-disabled people.

That means if you want to have an assistance animal live with you, you must ask for an accommodation from your housing provider or homeowners association in any community that has no-pet rules or charges fees for pets. Before approving your request, they may consider two questions:

  1. Do you have a disability? In other words, do you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  2. Do you have a disability-related need for an assistance animal?

Providing Documentation for Your Assistance Animal

If your disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal is obvious, your housing provider can’t ask for any documentation. If it is not obvious, as with many mental and emotional disabilities, you may need a note from a doctor, therapist, social worker, nurse or other knowledgeable healthcare professional that addresses these two questions.  Keep in mind that generally, a housing provider may not ask for you to release your medical records or for detailed or extensive information about your disability and medical history to approve the request.

Not all housing providers will have a specific form or procedure for granting accommodation requests. If they don’t, then:

  • Submit your request in writing;
  • Use the words “reasonable accommodation request” and
  • Explain your disability and need for an assistance animal.

Even if your housing provider does have a form, the provider must consider your written request. Using their form may avoid unnecessary delays.  However, if you are concerned the form asks for too much information you may want to use your own written request.

Always use credible sources. A housing provider may reject documentation from a counselor you found online who has never seen or treated you may be rejected. Documentation from a healthcare profession who has a history of treating you, knows your disability, and needs is hard to dismiss.

Common Disputes between Housing Providers and Assistance Animal Owners

  • Housing provider demands that you show a training certificate. While service animals may be professionally or individually trained, emotional support animals do not require training because they provide comfort by their presence.
  • Housing provider applies pet rent or a pet deposit. Your assistance animal isn’t a pet. You shouldn’t be charged pet fees or a pet deposit.  You will be liable for damages your assistance animal may cause.
  • Housing provider does not permit certain breeds or larger dogs. Generally, breed, size, and weight restrictions must be waived as a reasonable accommodation.
  • Housing provider gives you a warning for not cleaning up after your assistance animal. You are responsible for handling and cleaning up after your assistance animal and you can be held accountable to the same extent other tenants are accountable.

Where Can I Get More Information?

  • Read DRAZ’s Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ) Guide about assistance animals and the FHA, available here.
  • The US Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD released an FAQ document and a memo about assistance animals.
  • To initiate a fair housing complaint with the Arizona Civil Rights Division, use their online form.
  • To file a fair housing complaint with HUD click here.

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