Follow Guidelines for Assistance Animals
Whether you're developing a new pet policy for your site or you have a strict no-pets rule, keep in mind that animals needed because of a disability are not pets.
“Pet policies are exclusive to pets,” says fair housing attorney and former HUD counsel Theresa Kitay. “There can be some crossover—for instance, you may apply some of the same rules to animals needed because of a disability as those that are applied to pets, such as requiring that they be properly supervised, they are inoculated, they're not a nuisance, and residents clean up after them. But you can't charge the resident a deposit or fee for an animal needed because of a disability, and you may be required to waive weight, size, or breed restrictions.”
You may also need to set aside some species restrictions, since the types of animals needed because of a disability are not limited to dogs. “It could be any animal within the concept of a reasonable accommodation, and it is judged on a case-by-case basis,” Kitay says. “What might be reasonable for one person in one circumstance might not be reasonable for another person in another circumstance. There is a wide range of animals.” She points to a recent case in San Francisco in which a reasonable accommodation involved an iguana, which was a therapy animal.
This is where the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act differ. “The ADA regulations are very specific about what is considered a service animal—and it doesn't include any types of exotic animals,” Kitay says. “However, the Fair Housing Act doesn't have that restriction. It also does not make a distinction between a service animal and a companion animal. While the ADA limits your ability to bring an animal needed because of a disability into a public place to service animals, the Fair Housing Act does not do that. So if a resident has a mental disability that requires the emotional support of an animal, it is treated the same as a physical disability that requires a service animal.”
When to Request Third-Party Verification
If an applicant or current resident requests permission to keep an animal as a reasonable accommodation because of a disability, do you need to obtain proof of the disability? “It depends,” says Kitay. “As with any request for an accommodation, if the disability and the need for the accommodation are readily observable, you should not be seeking any kind of third-party verification.”
However, she adds, “in most cases concerning companion animals where a mental issue is involved, it is not going to be readily observable to a reasonable person. In those cases, a third-party verification would be appropriate.”
The verifier may be a medical doctor, but it is not a requirement. There are many appropriate third-party professionals who are qualified to act as verifiers, such as social workers, physical therapists, and psychologists. For a form to send to third parties to obtain verification, see our Model Form: Get Proof of Disability and Need for Animal.
Practical Pointer: If you are unsure whether an animal meets the definition of reasonable accommodation, you may request proof from the resident's health care or mental health provider. You may ask: (1) is there a disability; (2) what is the accommodation needed; and (3) how does the accommodation relate to the disability? However, you may not ask questions about the nature or the severity of the disability, Kitay says.
See The Model Tools For This Article
|Get Proof of Disability and Need for Animal|