The Fair Housing Act and Assistance Animals

The Fair Housing Act and Assistance Animals

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that prevents discrimination against tenants in their homes.

Under the Fair Housing Act, a disability is defined as a mental or physical mental impairment which significantly limits a person’s major life activities. Even if a lease says "no pets allowed" or restricts pets, housing providers are required to make what is called a “reasonable accommodation.” A reasonable accommodation allows pets to serve as assistance animals (include animals who provide emotional support).

Assistance animals are not pets; therefore pet restrictions and fees do not apply. These are animals that perform a task, render services for the benefit of a disabled person, or provide emotional support that improves the symptoms of a disability.

Training and certification.

Assistance animals do not require training or certification, can assist in a wide variety of ways, and are not restricted by breed, size, or weight.

Typically, service animals are dogs, with the most common example being that of a guide dog. Service dogs have a right to all public accommodations.

Emotional support animals are typically cats or dogs, and unlike a service dog, they are not trained to perform a service.

Classified as an assistance animal by a medical doctor or licensed mental health care provider, these animals provide emotional and/or physical benefits by merely living or traveling with their handler.

What happens if a landlord refuses to accommodate?

Under federal law, landlords must comply with a reasonable accommodation request if the disability claim is true and if the request does not create a hardship on the landlord or other tenants.Those who have been denied their request for a reasonable accommodation have the right to request that a government agency investigate your claim.

You have several options for filing a complaint:

  1. You can file a discrimination complaint electronically with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
  2. Many states have a government agency that investigates discrimination claims.
  3. You can also file a complaint directly with your state’s agency.
  4. You can use ESAD's DIY tools for complaint filing.

Housing covered by the Fair Housing Act.

All types of housing, including public housing, are covered by the FHA except:

  1. Rental dwellings of four or less units, where one unit is occupied by the owner;
  2. Single-family homes rented or sold by the owner without the use of a broker;
  3. Housing owned by religious organizations or private clubs that restrict occupancy in housing units to their members.