2 Legal Questions You Can Ask About Service Animals The Fair Housing Act – Service/ Emotional Support Animals

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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 own rental properties, you need to know the rules on service and emotional support animals . We cover the rules set forth by the ADA, but there are two agencies that create policies regarding these animals:

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

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

The Fair Housing Act – protection for tenants from landlord discrimination. It prohibits discrimination in housing sales, rentals, and financing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability.

The 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.
  • Assistance animals do not have to be trained or certified per se
  • Once an assistance animal is approved, the landlord is not allowed to charge any associated pet fees or deposits.
  • The landlord is not allowed to place weight or breed restrictions on the assistance animal

What you can ask:

  • The applicant or resident must have a disability within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act
  • There must be a health-related need for the animal

Permit requirements:

  • Is the disability visible or known?
  • Is a health-related need for the animal apparent or known?
  • If both the disability and the disability-related need for the animal are clear and known, you may not be asked any further questions and may not require any additional certification or documentation.
  • If the disability is not visible or recognized, you can request a reliable document of the disability and disability-related need for the assistance animal.

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

You can reject a residency request when:

  • will cause undue financial hardship on the property
  • will create an administrative burden on the property
  • a particular animal will be a direct threat to the property or will cause substantial physical damage to the property
  • if there is insufficient verification when the disabled is not shown

A prospect/renter can make a request from you for their animal in pretty much any way with something as simple as writing their request on a sticky note. There is no standard request form and you cannot request that they use one that you create.

The next step is to request that a written certificate be provided by a doctor or medical provider. Again, it doesn’t need to be on a specific form. You must obtain certification from a trusted 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, the applicant may be rejected. And be careful – there are many websites that provide certificates without requiring any damage certificate.

How the ADA and FHAA are different:

  • The ADA applies to areas of public accommodation. It does not apply to areas of the property that are not open to the public. (ie service animals must be allowed in the rental 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 homeowner will be about the regulations set forth by the FHAA.

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

As I mentioned in the last post, this topic is covered in our Homeowners Association Meeting. If you have more questions or need legal assistance in this matter, contact our spokesperson – Attorney Sean Doyle, sdoyle@oslawnc.com, 919-256-4295.

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