photo courtesy of Lisa Norwood

photo courtesy of Lisa Norwood

Most condo homeowner associations have rules and regulations regarding pets. However, according to HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and the Americans with Disabilities Act, those rules or policies must be modified to permit the use of an assistance animal. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against any person because of a handicap; reasonable accommodation must be made to permit the use of an assistance animal to afford a person with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling or community common areas.

Service animals are not considered pets. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for service animals are not completely in line with the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), it is the federal guidelines that protect a person with a disability from discrimination in obtaining housing. For example, emotional support animals may not qualify as service animals under ADA guidelines but may be considered reasonable under FHA guidelines. Regardless of whether it is a service animal or emotional support animal, a landlord or HOA may not ask a housing applicant or buyer about the existence, nature and extent of his or her disability. The HOA or landlord may ask the buyer or applicant to provide documentation so that the HOA or landlord can properly review the accommodation request.

Under federal law, a landlord or HOA must provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities to that they have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. What is reasonable accommodation? A request for an exemption to a pet restriction for a service animal (waiving a no pet rule and/or pet deposit) would be considered a reasonable accommodation. An animal qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act if:

  • an individual has a disability, as defined by the Fair Housing Act
  • the animal is needed to assist with the disability
  • the individual requiring the reasonable accommodation demonstrates that there is a relationship between the disability and the assistance the animal provides

Approximately 50% of all fair housing complaints filed with HUD allege that a housing situation refused to accommodate an individual with a disability. Condominium associations, rental housing and commercial establishments must be prepared to accommodate anyone disabled with a disability.

Other key points to keep in mind:

  • for the purposes of fair housing laws, a service animal is an auxiliary aid, like a wheelchair, it is not a pet
  • while most service animals are dogs, and can very in breed, size or weight, service animals may be a species other than a dog
  • there is no legal requirement for service animals to wear unique harnesses, markings or possess and display proof of certification
  • HUD does not require service animals to be trained and those that are may be trained by their owners
  • it is reasonable to expect a service animal’s  owner to be responsible for the care and supervision of the animal

For additional information and further clarification of these guidelines contact the follo9wing federal, state and local fair housing resources:

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Washington State Human Rights Commission

King County Office of Civil Rights

Seattle Office of Civil Rights

Americans with Disabilities Act

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