Living With a Service Animal

What laws cover housing and service animals?

There are three disability rights laws that affect housing for individuals with a disability. These laws apply in most private housing, state and local government housing, public housing and any other federally-assisted housing programs and activities.  The Americans with Disabilities Act has provisions that apply to discrimination in housing. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act covers housing if the housing was built with federal funds or receives federal financial assistance. By far, though, the most comprehensive housing discrimination statute is the Fair Housing Act.  The coverage of these laws may overlap and, when they do, housing must be in compliance with all of them.

What is the Fair Housing Act and how does it protect individuals with a disability?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals from discrimination in obtaining housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status, and disability. The FHA prohibits discrimination in any aspect of selling or renting housing, including the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings.  The law covers most types of housing and applies to a broad range of entities, including public housing agencies, property owners, landlords, housing managers, real estate agents, brokerage service agencies, and banks.

Request a reasonable accommodation under the FHA!

HUD has created an example letter. Be sure to enter the information that applies to your circumstance.

The FHA requires covered entities to make reasonable accommodations so that individuals with disabilities have equal housing opportunities, which includes the opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling.  According to the FHA, a reasonable accommodation is a change or exception to a rule, policy, or service. For example, an apartment complex that does not allow pets is required to modify the policy to allow an individual with a disability who uses a service animal to have the animal.  Another example is a housing provider waiving a pet deposit or fee for an assistance or emotional support animal.

What is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and how does it protect individuals with a disability?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Section 504 specifically requires that individuals with a disability not “be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination” by any program or activity that gets federal financial help. So Section 504 covers housing built with federal funds, as well as housing entities that receive federal financial assistance. Almost all public housing receives federal assistance. In addition, most post-secondary housing, like dorms or apartments run by an educational institution, is covered by Section 504 because most post-secondary institutions get federal financial assistance. Like the FHA, Section 504 requires that covered entities make reasonable accommodations necessary for individuals with a disability to live in housing covered by Section 504.  For example, a dorm may be required to change their “no animals” policy to accommodate a service animal.

Learn more about the FHA, Section 504, and how these laws protect individuals with a disability.

HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, implements the FHA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as it applies to housing.  HUD has several resources for individuals with a disability.  Start with the HUD's Information for Disabled Persons page, but make sure you check out these pages, too:

How does the FHA and Section 504 define a service animal?

Under both laws, all service animals, emotional support animals or other animals that work, provide assistance or emotional support, or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability are considered “assistance animals”. An assistance animal is not a pet.  Both the FHA and Section 504 do not limit assistance animals to dogs, so other animals may also qualify as long as they lessen the impact of the individual’s disability. Individuals with a disability may request to keep an assistance animal or to waive a pet deposit fee as a reasonable accommodation to a housing provider’s pet policies.

Need an Infographic?

The Northeast ADA Center has created a helpful infographic about service animals under the Fair Housing Act. This infographic is available on their Facebook page.

What rights do housing providers and other covered entities have?

When an individual with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, housing providers and other covered entities have the right to obtain information to determine if the requested reasonable accommodation is necessary because of a disability.  When an individual with a disability requests an assistance animal be allowed as a reasonable accommodation, a housing provider can ask the individual to provide documentation so that the covered entity can properly review the accommodation request.  If the individual’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation are both obvious, then the covered entity may not request additional information.

How does the ADA apply to service animals in housing?

It is important to keep in mind that the ADA may apply in the housing context as well, for example with student housing. Where the ADA applies, requiring documentation or certification would not be permitted with regard to an animal that qualifies as a “service animal” under the ADA. Title II covers programs of state or local governments, which includes housing that receives assistance from these entities. Title III covers places of public accommodation associated with housing  Most private housing itself is not covered by Title III, but rental offices, day care centers, & other places of public accommodation associated with housing are covered.

Watch an ADA National Network webinar to learn more!

The Mid-Atlantic ADA Center has developed a webinar called “Assistance Animals in Public Accommodations and Housing”. This session helps unravel the puzzle of what types of service or assistance animals are allowed and in what settings.

The Great Lakes ADA Center has developed a webinar called “Home, Community or Travel: Rules for Service Animals are not the same”. You’ll learn what housing providers, airlines, businesses, governments, and employers are or are not required to do.

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