The Fair Housing Act at Work
The FHA and Assistance Animals
A combat veteran of the Gulf War rented a condo in a community managed by a condominium association. He found it difficult to cope with his psychiatric disabilities while living alone. He did not think that he would be able to continue to live on his own. His mental health care providers recommended that he get an assistance animal to provide emotional support to help control the effects of depression and anxiety so that he could continue to live on his own. He acquired a small dog which helped to minimize the symptoms of his psychiatric disabilities.
A person with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. The Fair Housing Act also provides protection for people who had a disability or who are believed to have a disability. An assistance animal is any animal that works for, helps, or does tasks for a person with a disability. Assistance animals also provide emotional support to relieve the symptoms or effect of a disability. Service animals are a specific type of assistance animal. Service animals must be dogs that have been trained to do work or tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. An animal that only provides emotional support is not a service animal.
In the past, the Condominium Association where the veteran lived did not allow dogs but it allowed service and assistive animals for people with disabilities. After the veteran acquired his assistance animal the Condominium Association changed its policies and allowed only owners, not renters like the veteran, to have pets and service and support animals were considered to be pets. Pets were subject to a $150 registration fee, a $35 annual re-registration fee, and the pet’s owner had to have a $100,000 general liability policy covering animals.
Always remember: An assistance animal is never a pet and should never be treated like one. People with disabilities are allowed to request reasonable modifications in policies where they live in order to allow them to enjoy the property as fully as a person without disabilities. Requesting permission to keep an assistance animal on their property when the Condominium Association does not allow pets is an example of a reasonable accommodation. Housing providers, such as landlords and Condominium Associations, must allow assistance animals and service animals as reasonable accommodations. Public accommodations, such as restaurants, must allow service dogs but can prohibit other types of assistance animals.
The veteran provided evidence that his dog was an assistance animal that provided emotional support and ameliorated the symptoms of his disability. He provided a letter from his psychiatrist and provided proof that the dog had been vaccinated and registered with the county. The veteran disputed the fee requirements because his assistance animal was a reasonable accommodation.
A housing provider may ask for information that shows that an individual is disabled, if the disability is not obvious, and it may also ask for information to show that the reasonable accommodation, such as an assistance animal, is needed because of the disability. The housing provider should not ask for more information than is absolutely necessary and it should keep this information confidential. Housing providers cannot charge extra fees or require deposits from individuals who seek a reasonable accommodation. Individuals with assistance animals cannot be charged pet fees or pet deposits; however, they will have to pay for any extra damage caused by the reasonable accommodation. If required by local law assistance animals may need to be registered and vaccinated. A housing provider cannot require that this be done if state or local law does not require registration or vaccination.
The Association began fining the condo’s owner because of the veteran’s dog. The condo owner told the veteran he would not renew the lease unless the fees were paid. The Association refused to waive the fees for the dog and charged even more fines to the condo owner. The veteran moved out instead of paying fines for his assistance animal. His landlord deducted the fines from the veteran’s security deposit.
A reasonable accommodation, such as a request for an assistance animal, should only be denied by the housing provider if granting the request would be too expensive and too complicated (an undue financial and administrative burden) for the housing provider or it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the program (like having your landlord to pick up groceries for you).
Because his request for a reasonable accommodation was denied, the veteran contacted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because it enforces the Fair Housing Act. HUD investigated the veteran’s story and found that there was unlawful discrimination. The U.S. Department of Justice was able to obtain a consent decree with the Condominium Association that resulted in the payment of $20,000 in relief to the veteran. The Condominium Association will have to attend fair housing training and implement a new reasonable accommodation policy so that other people who seek a reasonable accommodation to have an assistance animal will not suffer like the veteran in this example.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex (this includes sexual harassment by landlords or people employed by the landlord), disability and family status (having children). Discrimination against people with disabilities includes denying requests for reasonable accommodations (as described above) and reasonable modifications, physical changes to the property which generally must be paid for by the tenant.If you believe that you have been discriminated against in violation of the Fair Housing Act please call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at email@example.com or call HUD at 1-800-669-9777.
For More Information Read:
Joint HUD/DOJ Statement on Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act
Joint HUD/DOJ Statement on Reasonable Modifications under the Fair Housing Act