service dog waiting for direction

Housing Providers Must Accommodate Service Animals, Feds Say

by Michelle Diament | January 30, 2020

For the second time this month, the Trump administration is weighing in on where and how animals assisting people with disabilities should be welcome.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is issuing new guidance clarifying the rights of people with disabilities to have service animals in their homes.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, people with disabilities can request that support animals be allowed as a reasonable accommodation, even in housing situations with no pet policies.

However, there has been “ambiguity surrounding proper documentation for assistance animals,” according to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.

“Countless Americans rely on assistance animals to fill a void, providing individuals with disabilities with the means to have a home that supports their quality of life,” Carson said. “In my many discussions with housing providers and residents impacted by the need for assistance, I recognized the necessity for further clarity regarding support animals to provide peace of mind to individuals with disabilities while also taking in account the concerns of housing providers.”

The 19-page document issued by the housing agency this week serves as a step-by-step guide for how to evaluate animal-related reasonable accommodation requests. It clarifies that federal law does allow people with disabilities to access service, support and other types of assistance animals in their homes so long as certain criteria are met.

The housing agency notes that certificates, registrations and licensing documents from websites alone are not sufficient proof that an individual needs an assistance animal, but a note from a person’s health care provider should be seen as a “reliable form of documentation.”

Further, the guidance distinguishes between animals often kept in households — like dogs, cats, small birds, rabbits, fish and hamsters — from barnyard animals, monkeys, kangaroos and others that are not typically found in homes. If one of these less common animals is sought the requestor has the “substantial burden of demonstrating a disability-related therapeutic need for the specific animal or the specific type of animal,” the guidance states.

Housing providers cannot charge fees for reasonable accommodation requests or for allowing an assistance animal, HUD said. What’s more, pet rules about size, breed and otherwise do not apply to service or support animals though limitations can be made based on the animal’s conduct.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development said that nearly 60 percent of all complaints it receives relate to the denial of reasonable accommodations and disability access. Complaints related to assistance animals are “significantly increasing” and are one of the most common types, the agency said.

The housing guidance comes less than a week after the Department of Transportation proposed regulations to limit the types of assistance animals that airlines must accommodate.