Caller: The one bedroom, one bath was on the third floor?

Housing Provider:  Yes.

Caller:  Okay. And what is the deposit?

Housing Provider:  It’s a $250 deposit, plus there’s a $100 non-refundable administration fee and the application fee is $45.

Caller:  Okay.  Now, I do have a service animal.

Housing Provider:  You do have a service animal?

Caller:  Uh-huh.

Housing Provider:  Okay, well, you have a form that you’re supposed to fill out.

Caller:  Well, I have a prescription.

Housing Provider:  Okay.  That would be a $900 deposit on the dog.  Is it a dog?

Caller:  My service animal?

Housing Provider:  Yeah.

Caller: Yeah.

Housing Provider:  It would be $900 on the pet and then a $1000 non-refundable on that.

Caller:  With a doctor’s note, right?

Housing Provider:  Right.

The above exchange was part of the evidence sited in a Fair Housing Case in Idaho.  What’s wrong with this interaction?  Well, as stated in the case documents, a plan reading of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) “suggests that imposing an additional security deposit [or any other financial fee or penalty] for a service animal made necessary by a handicap is discriminatory.  Requiring such a deposit [or any other financial fee or penalty] constitutes a failure to provide the reasonable accommodation of waiving a general pet deposit or no-pet policy.”

The spirit behind fair housing laws is to advance equal access to housing for all without regard to protected class status.  In this case, the protected class in question is the disability. For a broader perspective on disability protection in housing, visit www.FHCO.org/disability.  Here we’re going to dive into some nuances of aid animals under the FHA.

First of all, in housing under the FHA, it does not matter what you call the animal – service animal, companion animal, assistance animal, therapy animal, working animal, aid animal, etc.  Legally, they are not pets if they exist to serve their person with a disability.

It should be noted that this is distinctly different that you may have heard of under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  TheADA’s definition of a service animal as it relates to public accommodation was changed in 2011 to be narrowly defined as only a dog, sometimes a miniature pony.  This definition, in no way, affects or limits the broader definition of aid animals under the FHA.  There are additional distinctions between theADAand FHA as it relates to aid animals but suffice to say, when dealing with housing, you need to know and follow the FHA.

You can find additional information about aid animals in housing at www.FHCO.org/serviceanimals.htm.  There are even links to information about the ADA, just be careful not to confuse the two.  Posted on that page is an exceptional handout by the Department of Justice (DOJ) entitled, “Revised ADA Requirements:  Service Animals.”

This document states that even under the more narrow provisions of theADA:  “When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed.  Staff may ask two questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?  (Note:  this is not an allowed inquiry under FHA as, in fact, some aid animals do not have specific training.

Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentations such as copies of medical records, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task”

Certainly, doing more than this, is a sure way to find oneself in hot water as a housing provider bound by the FHA.

The DOJ document also states that (again, under the narrowerADAregulations), “allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals…”  The same is true under the more liberal FHA.

  • So, you know, (or perhaps NOW you know) that in housing, aid animals are not legally pets and must be reasonably accommodated.
  • You know that in housing, aid animals could potentially be any animal that assists this person with his/her disability.  In fact, we’ve seen fair housing cases involving dogs, cats, birds, miniature ponies, iguanas and snakes.
  • You know that in housing, you can’t charge anything upfront for an aid animal (of course, if the animal causes damage, the housing consumer is responsible for that damage).
  • You know that you can’t deny an aid animal in housing simply because you or others are allergic or fearful of animals.

A final reminder is that not all aid animals are highly trained.  Non-trained animals are, non-the-less, able to naturally provide the unconditional love, emotional support, interaction and sense of accountability that can assist individuals with a multitude of disabilities.

Jo Becker is an Education/Outreach Specialist  of the Fair Housing Council.  Reprinted with permission of METRO.  For more information, visit www.FHCO.org/disabilities.htm and www.FHCO.org/serviceanimals.htm.

 

 

 

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