Housing Laws Protecting Service Dogs
Service dog and psychiatric service dog owners have the right under the Americans with Disabilities Act to access public areas and venues that normally don’t allow pets. Service dogs can also board flights free of charge according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s regulations.
But did you know federal and state housing laws also protect that service dogs? If you own a service dog, your animal must be allowed to live with you even if your building bans pets.
Under housing laws, service dogs are not considered “pets” and are exempt from most pet policies, such as rules that restrict the size and weight of animals in a building. Service dog owners also can’t be charged any fees or deposits by a housing provider.
We’ll explain these housing laws, how you qualify as a service dog owner, and what rights you have as a tenant.
What housing laws protect service dog owners?
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that protects disabled tenants from discrimination. The U.S. Department of Housing (HUD) issues guidelines that instruct housing providers on accommodating tenants with service dogs or psychiatric service dogs.
The Fair Housing Act is applicable to every state in the United States. In addition, many states have enacted their housing laws that protect service dog owners, adding an additional layer of protection. These laws often mirror HUD’s protections. For example, California, New York, and Florida each have housing laws that recognize and protect service dog owners.
What type of housing is covered by Fair Housing rules for service dogs?
The Fair Housing Act applies to most types of housing, including rentals, condos, co-ops, and HOAs. However, there are exceptions: Certain landlords are exempt, such as owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units and single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent.
How do you qualify for a service dog?
There are two aspects to qualifying for a service dog:
- You must have a physical or mental health disability.
- Your own a service dog that is fully trained to assist with that disability.
Physical disabilities include blindness, deafness, and mobility limitations. Psychiatric disabilities include conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, learning disorders, phobias, or panic disorders that substantially limit a major life activity.
A licensed healthcare professional is best suited to evaluate whether you meet the criteria for having a psychiatric disability. If you qualify, you can get a PSD letter, a signed letter from a licensed health professional that sets out whether you meet the requirements for having a mental health disability.
The second criteria for owning a service dog are that your dog must be fully trained to perform a task that assists your disability. It must also be trained to behave properly in public settings. The service dog training can be done on your own or with the help of a professional trainer or organization.
Service dogs that help with physical disabilities perform tasks like pulling a wheelchair, guiding the visually impaired, alerting the owner of a rise or drop in blood sugar levels, providing stability while going up and down stairs or other hazardous areas, and retrieving items.
Psychiatric service dogs perform tasks like pawing or licking to calm their handlers during periods of distress, reminding them to take medication, interrupting panic attacks or “spells,” and interrupting repetitive or self-destructive behaviors.
Want to know if you qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Get the assessment from a licensed professional.
How can a landlord verify that you have a service dog?
Under HUD’s rules, your landlord can only verify if you have a service dog in a few specific ways.
If it is readily apparent that your dog is trained to perform tasks for the benefit of your disability, then your landlord is not allowed to ask any questions and must accept that your dog is a service animal. Examples of this include if the dog is guiding an individual with low vision, is pulling a wheelchair, or assists with stability to someone with an obvious mobility disability.
However, with psychiatric service dogs, it’s not always immediately apparent by visual inspection if the person is disabled and what the dog has been trained to do. In these circumstances, the housing provider can ONLY ask two questions:
- Is the animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
HUD guidelines are very clear that landlords cannot ask about the nature or extent of the tenant’s disability and cannot ask for any type of documentation. Tenants have a right to confidentiality regarding their medical details and history.
If you have a service dog or psychiatric service dog, it can be helpful to have service dog paraphernalia like ID cards, vests, and tags. They are especially helpful in buildings that restrict or ban pets since they signal to other tenants that your dog is a service dog. These items assist service dog handlers who want to avoid intrusive inquiries about why they have a dog on the premises.
What rights do service dog owners have in residential buildings?
Landlords must reasonably accommodate service dog and psychiatric service dog owners, even if the building bans all animals. They cannot restrict service dogs solely because they are a certain weight, size, or breed. Service dog owners are also exempt from paying any pet fees or deposits. As a tenant, you have the right to bring a service dog into your home before or after signing the lease.
These rights, however, are not absolute. There are circumstances where a landlord can deny the accommodation of a service dog. For example, if the service dog has exhibited dangerous behavior towards other people or has caused significant property damage, it may be grounds for rejecting a service dog. A service dog should never have these issues, as a fully trained service dog must be capable of behaving at all times and around other people and animals.
Do you need to register a service dog for housing?
Registering a service dog is an optional step for service dog owners. Landlords cannot insist on it as a prerequisite to granting accommodation. However, it is common for service dog owners to use items like ID cards, tags, vests, and harnesses to signal that their dog is a service animal. This can be especially useful if you live in a building that doesn’t allow dogs or has other pet restrictions. Having service dog accessories puts the other tenants and building staff on notice that you have a disability-related need for your canine.