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Fair Housing & Housing Discrimination

Housing, Landlord/Tenant Rights

Fair Housing & Discrimination

Keeping Your Service or Assistance Animal

Do you rent? Do you or a member of your household have a support animal for a disability? Are you and your landlord having a disagreement about a support animal, or have you been denied housing because of your support animal? The Fair Housing Act protects you from housing discrimination based on your disability or the disability of anyone in your household, which includes failing to make reasonable accommodations for your support or assistance animal. While there are some limited exceptions, federal and state fair housing laws apply to most private owners, and all federally funded housing. (See:

Guide dogs for the blind and deaf are common, and most people recognize that they are protected under disability laws. Guide dogs are a type of support animal which has been specially trained to provide services to someone with a disability. This training can be for any service which an animal cannot automatically do, such as warning a person that a fire alarm is sounding or that someone is knocking at the door.

Assistance animals are another type of animal which don’t necessarily need training to provide help to their owner. Emotional support animals are the most common type of untrained assistance animals and are becoming even more common as time goes on. These animals help their owners who may have mental disabilities like PTSD avoid things like panic attacks or other harmful symptoms. Emotional support animals don’t always need to be trained, because the animal may have some inherent trait which enables them to lessen or ameliorate their owner’s symptoms. What some people may not know is that untrained assistance animals, such as emotional support dogs, are entitled to the same level of legal protection as trained support animals like guide dogs. Courts refer to them by different terms to capture the difference in training, but the end result is the same.

The following is an example of a NPLS case related to accommodations for support animals:

Francis has two assistance animals, a dog and a cat. He reached out to NPLS for help when the owner sent an eviction notice, alleging he breached the lease by having a pet that was not allowed by the lease. The animals were allowed on the initial lease, but the landlord unilaterally rescinded permission.

NPLS represented the eviction appeal heard by the county Court of Common Pleas arbitration panel, arguing that the landlord’s actions in denying his reasonable accommodation request to retain his emotional support animals, which had been allowed under the initial lease and which had caused no problems in the unit, was a violation of fair housing laws. The panel agreed, and found in favor of Francis, thus preventing an eviction. Francis can now enjoy time with his support animals without fear of eviction.

Here’s how a request for reasonable accommodation gets started. A person asks to keep an animal in their home, but the lease has a restriction on “pets” and the tenant wants to modify the rule to allow the support animal in the home. The tenant needs to make the request, and let the owner or management agent know that they have a disability. It is helpful to have documentation, for example, a note from medical provider, showing that they have a disability which the animal would assist with; and necessary, in that the accommodation does in fact help the person with his or her disability.

Generally, if you provide a doctor’s note which describes your disability and how your animal helps you manage your condition, that should be enough. The request for accommodation should be in writing, and sample letters are available in our Self-Help Handbook for Tenants. (English Version; Spanish Version) The fair housing laws require that the requested accommodation needs to be reasonable, in that it doesn’t impose significant burdens on the landlord. For example, imposing fees as a condition for approving a reasonable accommodation is not allowed under public housing regulations, and is generally frowned-upon even in private housing except in unusual cases where the landlord does, in fact, have some large cost resulting from giving permission for the animal.

Many parties work this out with brief discussion, also known as an “interactive process.” However, if the request is denied, or if there is no response, you may want to consult an attorney or a disability advocate or consider a complaint to HUD or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The Department of Justice and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have published some guidelines which are helpful, and can be found here: HUD/DOJ Joint Statement: Reasonable Accommodations - HUD Exchange.