Landlords, tenants and owners in multifamily housing, housing management associations and realtors question the validity of service animals in housing opportunities that traditionally don’t allow pets. Despite federal and state legislation designed to provide the guidance necessary to answer the questions that arise about service animals in housing.
How the Fair Housing Act Protects Individuals with Disabilities with Regard to Service Animals
Service animals are a healthcare option that many individuals choose to help them overcome the limitations imposed by disabilities. The Fair Housing Act protects individuals who have disabilities as defined by the Act. In order to be protected by the Fair Housing Act with regard to service animals, 3 tests must be met:
1. The person must have a disability (see Disability Defined, following).
2. The animal must serve a function directly related to the person's disability.
3. The request to have the service animal must be reasonable.
The provisions that protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by service animals are just one way that the Fair Housing Act protects people with disabilities. With regard to service animals, the Fair Housing Act does not protect individuals who do not have disabilities, or situations in which individuals train animals for use by people other than themselves.
The Fair Housing Act defines a person with a disability as an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or has a record of an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment (regardless of whether that perception is accurate). It is not necessary that the disability be an obvious one.
Disability is defined broadly and has been found to include such conditions as alcoholism and drug addiction but excludes individuals with current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance. Other specific exemptions, such as transvestitism and HIV/AIDS, are listed in the Act.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny housing, to individuals because of their disabilities. The law covers not only the named buyer/renter but also all individuals who reside in the dwelling or are associated with the buyer or renter.
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in places of public accommodation. The ADA covers certain types of nontraditional housing, such as temporary shelters.