The Fair Housing Act – Service/ Emotional Support Animals

The Fair Housing Act - Service/ Emotional Support Animals

My last post, Service Animals/Emotional Support Animals – What You Need to Know, discussed the fact that, if you have rental properties, you need to know the laws on service and emotional support animals. We covered rules laid out by the ADA, but there are 2 agencies that create regulation regarding these animals:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  2. The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

Here we will discuss the additional laws laid out by the FHA. Note that ADA covers commercial areas where FHA covers residential. Also, ADA does not cover emotional support animals but FHA does.

The Fair Housing Act – protects renters from landlord discrimination. It prohibits discrimination of home sales, rentals, and financing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or those with disabilities.

Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) of 1988:

  • Assistance Animal – an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s disability
  • an assistance animal does not have to be individually trained or certified
  • once an assistance animal is approved, the landlord is not permitted to charge any associated pet fees or deposits
  • a landlord is not permitted to put weight or breed restrictions on an assistance animal

What can you require:

  • the prospect or resident must have a disability within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act
  • there must be a disability-related need for the animal

Permissible questions:

  • Is the disability apparent or known?
  • Is the disability-related need for the animal apparent or known?
  • If both the disability and the disability-related need for the animal are apparent and known, you may not ask any further questions and you may not require any additional verification or documentation.
  • If the disability is not apparent or known, you may request reliable documentation of the disability and the disability-related need for the assistance animal.

For emotional support animals, you may request documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability.

You may deny an accommodation request when:

  • it would cause undue financial hardship on the property
  • it would create an administrative burden on the property
  • the specific animal would be a direct threat to the property or would cause substantial physical damage to the property
  • if there is insufficient verification when the disability is non-apparent

The prospect/tenant can make a request from you for their animal in pretty much any manner including something as simple as writing their request on a sticky note. There is no formal request form and you can’t require that they use one that you create.

Your next step is to ask that written verification be provided by the doctor or medical provider. Again, it does not need to be on a specific form. You must accept verification from a reliable third party that confirms the applicant has a disability within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act and confirms that there is a disability-related need for the animal.

Without sufficient verification, you may deny the applicant. And – beware – there are many online sites that provide certifications without requiring any verification of a disability.

How the ADA and FHAA are different:

  • The ADA applies to areas of public accommodation. It does not apply to areas of the property not open to the general public. (i.e. Service animals must be allowed into the leasing office.)
  • The FHAA applies to the entire property. (Qualified service and emotional support animals must be allowed to live in your rental property.)

Most of your concern as a landlord is going to be regarding regulations laid out by the FHAA.

Wow, there’s a lot in those 2 posts. What’s been your experience with service animals?

 

As I mentioned in the last post, I’m not an attorney and this is definitely not legal advice, I’m just sharing what was discussed at the meeting and found through online research. Please check with your local real estate attorney when you have questions on service or emotional support animals. Additionally, you may contact our speaker – Attorney Sean Doyle, sdoyle@oslawnc.com, 919-256-4295.

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