Service animals perform various functions for an individual with a physical or an emotional disability that compensate for his or her disability-related functional limitations. Under Fair housing regulations, anyone with a physical, mental or emotional disability may be entitled to keep service or assistance animals as a reasonable accommodation
in housing facilities or any type of residential dwelling that may otherwise impose restrictions or prohibitions on animals. These animals are not limited to dogs.
While most of us may be able to determine an obvious disability such as blindness for which a guide dog may be necessary, emotional and mental disabilities are not always obvious. Various species of animals other than dogs, with or without training, provide emotional support. These animals have been recognized as necessary assistance animals under the reasonable accommodation provisions of The Federal Fair Housing ACT
and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Under these acts, granting permission to a physically or mentally disabled individual to live with their service animal is a reasonable accommodation. Service animals may not be considered to be pets or companion animals and are therefore not subject to a housing provider’s pet rules. They may not require certification or any kind of special equipment, identification or tags.
Reasonable Accommodation Requirements
Protection by fair housing law does require that a person who requires reasonable accommodations must be able to establish that they have a disability and that certain criteria be met such as:
- The animal must serve a function directly related to the person’s disability
- The animal must be necessary to allow the person to use and enjoy the housing
- The request for the assistance animal must be reasonable
If these requirements are met, a housing facility, program or service must permit the assistance animal as a ‘reasonable accommodation’ unless it can be demonstrated that allowing the assistance animal would impose an undue financial or administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing program or services.
No limits on type, breed or size of service animal
So, no, service animals are not limited to guide dogs. Many other kinds of animals, such as a parakeet or a goldfish can provide support to individuals with mental and emotional disabilities. That is why the statement in our Fair Housing Quiz describing these animals as ‘service animals’ is true since they may have met the necessary requirements and may not be subject to a housing provider’s pet rules. Refusing to make reasonable accommodations to afford a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling is unlawful.
Fair Housing laws can be confusing and very often, housing discrimination results from a lack of knowledge and understanding about the needs of individuals with disabilities and the requirements imposed by law. Education and communication are key elements in reducing this type of misunderstanding. Here are some additional resources:
Rose-Marie Lucas • Policy Resource Specialist
Rose-Marie joined TREND in May 2001 as coordinator for the Industry Relations Department. She is currently the Policy Resource Specialist, and is responsible for managing escalated compliance concerns and providing editorial contributions.