Many landlords do not allow tenants to have pets in their rentals. That is their right since it is their building. But what if you own a service or support animal? Are they allowed? Is there a difference between a pet and a service animal? How about we take a look at the laws and see what applies.
The Difference between a Service Animal and a Pet
Most people love having a pet. Pets include animals such as dogs, cats, birds, rodents, snakes, reptiles and fish which is basically any non-human domesticated animal that is small enough to safely fit in an apartment. The law allows landlords the right to allow or exclude pets from their rental properties.
A service animal is different from a pet. A service animal provide assistance to a person who is physically or mentally handicapped or one who needs psychological support. While, in my opinion, all pets provide some sort of psychological support, for an animal to be qualified as a service animal they need to prescribed by a doctor and individually trained. This means that a legitimate service animal must be properly registered as a service animal. Under the ADA, only dogs and miniature horses are recognized as such.
Emotional support, comfort, or assistance animals are somewhere between a pet and a service animal. They are classed as “any animal that provides emotional support, well-being, or companionship” but that is not individually trained. Emotional support animals help to diminish the symptoms of disabilities and are not limited to dogs.
Does a “No Pet” Policy Apply to Service Animals?
No. Service animals are regulated by The Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA “prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability.” The FHA makes it unlawful for a person to refuse to “make reasonable accommodations… when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” Making an exception to a “No Pets” policy to accommodate a service animal has been established as a reasonable accommodation.
There is an exception to this rule. Housing that is not covered under the FHA includes rentals with less than 4 units where one of the units is owner-occupied and “single family housing sold or rented without a real estate broker.”
Do I Have to Pay Extra for a Service Animal?
No. Your landlord is lawfully obligated to waive any pet fees or pet deposits. If your animal, however, damages the unit, you will be required to pay the cost of the repairs.
How Can I Get Permission to Have a Service Animal in My Apartment?
You must first request, in writing, that the landlord make a reasonable accommodation. The letter should state that you are a tenant with a disability. It should also state how your service or support animal helps you to cope with your disability. You should also include a note from your doctor or therapist stating that this animal has been “prescribed” as a method of treatment.
If you would like to see a sample letter that you could send to your landlord, check out the Self Advocacy Packet – Animals and the Fair Housing Act which has been prepared by Disability Rights North Carolina.