Housing


Panoramic slice of a person in profile in a wheelchair is reaching their arm with keys toward a door, while a small white and black dog on their lap sits and looks directly at the camera from under the arm.

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On this page…

  1. Intro
  2. Assistance animal terminology
  3. How animal disability accommodations work in housing
  4. FHAct housing exemption flowchart and checker
  5. FHAct assistance animal accommodation procedure flowchart and tool

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1. Intro

Various federal, state, and local laws can affect disability-based housing accommodations in the United States. The main law is the Fair Housing Act (FHAct).A black pit bull mix sits next to a white woman with purple and blue hair, and both look into the camera.

Under particular conditions, the FHAct gives prospective and current disabled tenants certain animal-based-policy exemptions when an animal is meant to help with the person’s disability. These exemptions can include bypassing size or breed limitations, making an exception to a no-pets policy, and a waiver of any pet fees. This does not get the tenant out of paying for damages any other tenant would have to pay for.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a very helpful guidance document on assistance animal accommodations in 2020. You should read this guidance if you are a professional in the housing industry or an individual who wants animal-based disability accommodations in housing. It contains many important details that we don’t try to reproduce here, because they are presented by HUD about as clearly as we can hope for.

However, we have created some resources where there’s room for a more succinct or contextualized overview on a first pass. These resources include our time-saving FHAct exemption checker and FHAct assistance animal accommodation procedure tool in sections below, with matching flowcharts. First, we’ll cover some terminology and then briefly explain the big picture of FHAct animal accommodations.

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2. Assistance animal terminology

HUD uses the term “assistance animal” in FHAct guidance. This term includes both service dogs and other animals that help with an individual’s disability.White man sits in a sky blue walker holding up two fingers in a peace sign. Black and white service dog lies at their feet, looking at camera.

A service dog is trained to do work or a task to help a disabled person. Service dog teams have the most straightforward rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They can go almost anywhere members of the public are allowed, regardless of no-pets policies. Service dogs are typically trained for 1–3 years to safely be in public with their user whenever their user goes out.

A great many disabled individuals are able to use an assistance animal for help with their disability (such as disabling heart issues or anxiety) by the animal simply being present like a pet in the person’s life. These non-work-or-task assistance animals are often called “emotional support animals” or ESAs.

ESAs generally do not have federal access rights in public places (as opposed to housing). However, “ESA” teams in earlier flying laws were closely related to ESA teams in housing, and they had access on flights.

ESAs are distinct from psychiatric service dogs, which is just a type of service dog that is trained to help with a person’s mental-health-related disability. Under federal law, psychiatric service dogs are legally equivalent to guide dogs, hearing alert dogs, and other types of service dogs.Outside amid greenery, in profile a bearded man and his large black dog touch noses happily.

Other assistance animals include those that do work or tasks for a disabled person, but are not a dog (such as a miniature horse or capuchin monkey). They also may simply not be considered to have been trained to do the work or tasks they do. These work-or-task, non-service-dog assistance animals are sometimes called service animals outside of the ADA legal context. However, trained service miniature horse teams are actually the only category apart from trained service dog teams that have explicit public access rights under the ADA.

Regardless of the kind of assistance animal, they are not considered pets under FHAct and similar disability rights laws.

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3. How animal disability accommodations work in housing

Overall, there are two steps to determine whether someone is entitled to a housing accommodation with an animal:

  1. Determine whether the person is disabled.
  2. Determine whether there’s a disability-based need for the animal.

These steps are carried out in different ways for service dogs vs. other assistance animals.A redheaded white woman smiles as she crouches and gives her Golden Retriever guide dog Roger some loving scratches.

The service dog procedure is less burdensome and housing providers are not supposed to put certain extra burdens on service dog users. This means the service dog procedure is the path housing providers need to start down in making an accommodation determination. Otherwise, they risk violating the legal rights of a service dog user.

Housing providers could then discover the service dog aspect doesn’t apply, yet the person is still requesting a disability accommodation for an animal. In that case, the procedure for other assistance animals comes into play.

The procedure for accommodating someone with another kind of assistance animal can involve the person getting paperwork from a medical professional. This paperwork requirement is not allowed with service dogs.

In addition to the guidance from HUD giving important details, our letter templates and info for healthcare professionals can smooth the process. Please share both resources with anyone they may apply to.

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4. FHAct housing exemption flowchart and checker

The Fair Housing Act (FHAct) applies to most housing in the US. However, there are housing scenarios where the situation is exempt—except for in advertising. Overall, the exempt housing scenarios involve sales or rentals where the owner is handling things on their own. The owner in these cases either doesn’t have many housing sales/rentals and/or they haven’t involved a business to help. For example, someone might rent out an extra room in their house.

Whether the law forces an accommodation or not, nothing prevents an owner from compassionately deciding to make their own accommodation to ease a disabled person’s life. We encourage clear communication and record-keeping regardless.A white man with a beard in a striped white shirt and denim shorts and a navy ball cap sits in a white rocking chair while petting his service dog, an English Cream Golden Retriever, who has a red, white, and blue bandana around his neck. They are sitting together on the front porch of a house.

The FHAct is meant to apply to residences, whether permanent or temporary. Short-term vacation rentals are in a legal gray area and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. We don’t cover this with our resources. For details, see BHGR’s excellent analysis, “Housing Provider Obligations Under the FHA and ADA: Do I Need to Allow Service & Assistance Animals in My Short-Term Rental?“, also archived as a PDF.

Below are our housing exemption flowchart and exemption checker, based on the regulations in 24 CFR §100.10(c). The flowchart visually lays out how all the housing possibilities result in either the FHAct applying to the situation or not.

The checker is like a survey, where you can answer one question at a time about the situation to get the result. The checker contains the same information as the flowchart, but in a different format that may be more accessible for some people (especially for screenreader users). Our housing exemption checker is also available on its own external webpage as an optional convenience.

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Image of a colorful flowchart titled "Fair Housing Act—what's exempt?".

Click to access the PDF exemption flowchart

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5. FHAct assistance animal accommodation procedure flowchart and tool

So you or a prospective/current tenant wants to reside with an animal. How do you know whether disability laws apply to the animal? We’ll assume you’ve used the exemption checker above and you already know the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) covers the housing situation. The resources in this section help you determine whether the particular animal situation requires an FHAct accommodation.A longhaired, tri-color Basset-Hound-Shetland-Sheepdog-Kooikerhondje mix with some grey on his snout stands on a brown wood porch thoughtfully looking skyward, enjoying the summer sun. In the foreground sits a tropical plant with bright pink flowers and vibrant green leaves. In the background is a beautiful blue sky, green trees and a hint of mountains.

Be sure to read HUD’s 2020 guidance for necessary details. Our resources are only intended as introductions for newcomers and quick assists for those already familiar with the details.

Below are our procedure flowchart and tool, based on the 2020 HUD guidance document. The flowchart visually lays out how all the housing possibilities result in whether the FHAct requires an animal accommodation, doesn’t, or requires more of an opportunity for the (prospective) tenant to gather information.

The tool is like a survey, where you can answer one question at a time about the situation to get the result. The tool contains the same information as the flowchart, but in a different format that may be more accessible for some people (especially for screenreader users). Our FHAct procedure tool is also available on its own external webpage as an optional convenience.

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Image of a colorful, complex flowchart titled "Fair Housing Act assistance animal accommodation procedure".

Click to access the PDF procedure flowchart

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For more information from HUD on the context of its 2020 guidance and how to interpret the guidance, see HUD’s PDF “Fact Sheet on HUD’s Assistance Animal Notice“. HUD’s page on assistance animals contains a brief overview of the topic and links to resources, including HUD’s complaint form for reporting discrimination.

We are not attorneys and do not provide personal advocacy services. However, if you represent a business or are an individual who would like non-attorney help regarding service dogs or assistance animals, please contact us.