By Denise Supplee
The U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) recently updated its regulations regarding pet ownership for the elderly as well as persons with disabilities, who reside in HUD-assisted public housing and multifamily housing projects. John D. Trasviña, HUD's assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, has noted that complaints regarding disability including those involving assistance animals seem to be the most common of discrimination complaints. On April 25th 2013, HUD published a notice on the issue of assistance animals in an attempt to clarify any confusion.
To better understand these new regulations, one should gain a better insight to the definition of a “disability” and the definition of a “service or assistant animal.”
The Fair Housing Act’s definition of a disability or a handicap is:
“(a) a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s life activities; (b) a record of having such impairment; or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment—but such a term does not include the current, illegal use of or addiction to controlled substances.”
On March 15th 2011, the Americans with Disabilities Act defined a “service animal” as:
“A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” This definition pertains only to dogs and it excludes “emotional support animals.” Section 504 of the FHA’s definition however states “Disabled individuals may request a reasonable accommodation for assistance animals in addition to dogs, including emotional support animals. Providers of housing are required to follow the FHA definition when deciding as to whether or not to accommodate requests.
The recently released notice explains that a fair determination and consideration must be made for an individual with a disability who uses service or assistance animals, where under normal circumstances a landlord may have a “no-pet policy” in place.
Assistance animals may provide an assortment of functions to aid the disabled person including (but not limited to) guiding a blind or sight-restricted person, alerting the deaf or hard of hearing, pulling or guiding a wheelchair and alerting someone who has seizures of one that may be forthcoming. These are only a few of the many tasks a service animal may provide for a person with disabilities.
Additionally there is now no requirement that the animal be individually certified or trained. Landlords must consider requests for the use of service animals as a reasonable accommodation in a rental property, therefore using the same principles that apply to all reasonable accommodations.
Under the notice’s guidelines, landlords have an obligation to consider many factors, such as whether the tenant or applicant has a disability and whether that disability requires the use of an assistance animal. It is worth noting however that when making the consideration, the size or breed of the animal may not be contemplated in making the decision. A person who qualifies under the guidelines may not be required to pay an additional deposit to have an assistance animal, although any damages caused by the assistance animal is the responsibility of the tenant under these circumstances.
There are many other guidelines under the HUD Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs and it is important that landlords read it fully and become familiar with it. A violation of FHA guidelines can lead to fines and lawsuits for the landlord, along with any other penalties a judge may impose.