Service Animals in Housing

Christopher Sweet April 26, 2020

Often, when a person feels that their rights are being infringed upon relative to their disability, the first thing that comes to mind is the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the ADA provides numerous protections for people with disabilities, it does not always cover issues relative to housing. Thankfully, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which was passed in 1968 and amended in 1988, addresses housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18)and disability. 

Part of these protections relate to the use of service animals. While under the ADA, the use of service animals does not require paperwork to be allowed in places of public accommodation, the FHA has differing guidelines. Many property owners have “no pet” policies in place or have breed restrictions for an apartment complex, or they may have a pet deposit fee. Under the FHA, a property owner must provide a reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities so that they have an equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling. This includes waiving a “no pet” rule and pet deposit fees.   In cases where the need for a service animal is obvious, then a property owner should simply allow the accommodation. When a person’s disability is not readily apparent, the landlord has the right to ask that a person provide documentation, in writing, (1) that the tenant or a member of his or her family is a person with a disability; (2) the need for the animal to assist the person with that specific disability; and (3) that the animal actually assists the person with a disability. 

While a pet fee has to be waived, damage that may have resulted from a service animal can still be applied to the renter’s security deposit at the time the person moves out. 

To read service animal guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development go to here

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Chris Sweet joined the Northeast ADA Center in March 2015 as a Technical Assistance and Outreach Specialist. Chris provides technical assistance consultation to a variety of constituents for the Northeast ADA Center (NEADA) funded by the National Institute of Disability Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).



The Northeast ADA Center is a member of the ADA National Network funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90DP0088). We provide information, guidance, and training on implementation of all aspects of the ADA. Our center is located at the Yang-Tan Institute at Cornell University. Our staff consists of individuals with and without disabilities who have extensive experience in the disability field