In general, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) guarantees that people with disabilities who are partnered with an assistance dog can secure housing without discrimination, even in places with a no-pets policy. We take a closer look at this below, but it’s appropriate to open with a disclaimer when discussing legal issues like this.
We’re not lawyers, and we can’t provide legal advice; this content is, as they say, for informational purposes only. Also, we’re speaking in generalizations. Sometimes, certain circumstances make individual cases different, or there are rare exceptions allowed by law, or State laws affect the exact applications of a regulation, and so on.
In other words, if you need specific advice about your situation, get it from a qualified professional.
The Fair Housing Act’s Scope
We’re talking about the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination by landlords against buyers and tenants—and today this includes the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, which extended this protection to people with disabilities, including those partnered with assistance dogs.
The FHA covers most types of rental, condominium, and other housing where tenants are subject to lease agreements or community rules and regulations. It does not, however, cover housing receiving federal assistance. The rights of people with disabilities in such housing are governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It also doesn’t cover housing owned by a State or Municipal government. Such housing falls under the purview of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
There are also a few exceptions to application of the Federal Housing Act. Here are three examples that come up with some regularity:
- If the landlord lives in the building and it has four or less units, the FHA does not apply
- Private owners with three or fewer single-family homes, who don’t employ the services of a real estate broker, and who don’t run discriminatory ads are exempt from provisions of the FHA
- Housing offered exclusively through membership in an organization or private club is not covered under the FHA
Rights Under the Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation prohibiting discrimination in housing (as well as mortgage lending). People with disabilities are one of a number of groups protected under the law. Furthermore, there is a wide range of protections covering accessibility, property modification, lease terms, and other disability-related issues.
There are some provisions specifically concerning the rights of those partnered with assistance dogs. First and most importantly, no-pets policies are not applicable to hearing, guide, or service dogs. Beyond that, property owners or managers cannot charge pet deposits or other extra fees for an assistance dog, regardless of whether pets are allowed and whether pet owners are required to pay an extra deposit or fee. However, the home occupant is financially responsible for any property damage caused by an assistance dog.
Unlike in public access situations, a property owner or manager has the right to request proof of disability, as well as supporting documentation showing the need for the assistance dog or verifying training. Additionally, reasonable accommodations must be made, but any shown to be a burden or to require excessive property modifications are not mandated under the Fair Housing Act.
It’s worth noting that, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), insurance policy restrictions can sometimes be used as a defense for refusing to accommodate dogs of certain breeds. If the housing’s insurance carrier would cancel, significantly increase the cost of, or adversely change the terms of the insurance policy, this would be regarded as creating an unfair monetary or administrative burden on the owner.
Access rights under the FHA also protect property visitors partnered with an assistance dog. It is not required, but it’s generally considered a reasonable courtesy to notify the property owner or manager of an upcoming visit if there’s a no-pets-allowed policy.
Filing a Housing Discrimination Complaint
If you believe you were discriminated against because of your partnership with an assistance dog and the situation is covered by the Fair Housing Act, you may file a complaint with HUD. The easiest method is to submit this online complaint form, but make sure to print and keep a copy for your records. Find additional information about other methods, what information to include in your complaint, and the process here on the HUD website.