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Regulating animals in housing organizations

In the last few decades, the use of animals to provide comfort and support has expanded far beyond only service dogs. This often complicates housing arrangements, pitting pet policies against laws meant to protect tenants. Below, we break down a few of the most common questions relating to the regulation of animals in housing.

What qualifies as a service animal?

First, it is important to note that there is a difference between service animals and assistance or support animals. Service animals are dogs specially trained to perform specific tasks for their owners; for example, guide dogs.

Assistance animals, on the other hand, provide support or services without specific training or certification. They might alleviate depression or anxiety, sense oncoming seizures, or act as alert systems for their owners who are hard of hearing. Any animal can be an assistance or emotional support animal.

Assistance animals are not pets. They must perform a specific function that aids their owner in coping with a disability.

What laws regulate animals in housing?

In general, the use of service animals is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that service animals must be allowed anywhere the public is allowed. Housing issues fall under the Fair Housing Amendments Act. Someone with a disability can request reasonable accommodations from their landlord for their assistance animal if they follow the proper channels.

Can landlords request a doctor’s note for an assistance animal?

Yes. First, the FHAA requires individuals to prove they have notified their landlord of a need for accommodations. Then, the landlord or housing organization may request information from the person’s health care provider to confirm their need for an assistance animal.