The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released a new notice on assistance animals and housing providers.

This update is to help landlords—or housing providers—determine an authentic request for reasonable accommodation and a disingenuine one for people attempting to avoid no-pet policies or pet-related fees. It also provides best practices for assessing a request. Important: Please read the entire notice to fully understand and be aware of all FHA, HUD, and ADA policies regarding assistance animals and reasonable accommodation requests.

How does the HUD define assistance animals?

Assistance animals are comprised of service animals and support animals; they are not pets. (Read more about pet policies.) Service animals are trained to work, perform tasks, provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Support animals can be trained or untrained animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities

How can I tell if an animal is a service animal covered by the American Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Typically, a service animal is a dog and it is pretty obvious that the dog is trained to do work or perform tasks (such as guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision; pulling a wheelchair; or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability). 

If the animal is not defined as a service animal, it may still be a support animal for which a reasonable accommodation is needed.

What is the best way to ask if an animal is an assistance animal?

The HUD suggests that you limit your inquiry to simply two questions: 

  1. “Is the animal required because of a disability?” 
  2. “What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?”

If the answer to question #1 is “yes” and work or a task is identified in response to question #2, grant the requested accommodation, if otherwise reasonable, because the animal qualifies as a service animal.  If the answer to either question is “no” or “none,” the animal does not qualify as a service animal under federal law but may be a support animal or other type of assistance animal that needs to be accommodated.

How can I tell if an animal is a support animal covered by the American Disabilities Act (ADA)?

If the person has an observable disability, they should provide information that reasonably supports that the animal does work, performs tasks, provides assistance, and/or provides therapeutic emotional support with respect to the individual’s disability. 

If the person has a non-observable disability, they should provide information that reasonably supports that the person seeking accommodation has a disability and that the animal does work, performs tasks, provides assistance, and/or provides therapeutic emotional support with respect to the individual’s disability. 

What about individuals requesting reasonable accommodations for a support animal that only has an internet certification?

Certificates or registrations from the internet are not sufficient documentation that a person has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal. However, licensed health care professionals who deliver services online or remotely can confirm a person’s disability and/or need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual is sufficient documentation.

Can I charge a fee for assistance animals?

No. A housing provider may not charge a deposit, fee, or surcharge for an assistance animal.  

Can I charge for damages an assistance animal causes?

Yes. A housing provider can charge a tenant for damage an assistance animal causes if it is the provider’s usual practice to charge for damage caused by tenants (or deduct it from the standard security deposits imposed on all tenants).

Can I place restrictions on the type of assistance animals allowed?

Yes and no. You cannot limit the breed or size of a dog used as an assistance animal just because of the size or breed. However, you can refuse a reasonable accommodation request based on specific issues with the animal’s conduct because it poses a direct threat.

Also, assistance animals should be of the traditional variety (dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, other rodents, fish, turtle, or other small, domesticated animal) and not “unique” (reptiles (other than turtles), barnyard animals, monkeys, kangaroos, and other non-domesticated animals are not considered common household animals).

Can I refuse a reasonable accommodation request for an assistance animal?

It depends. You can not refuse to make a reasonable accommodation that a person with a disability who may need an assistance animal to equally enjoy and use a dwelling.

 However, you can refuse a request based on specific issues with the animal’s conduct because it poses a direct threat. You can also refuse a reasonable accommodation request due to a lack of information confirming an individual’s disability or disability-related need for an animal. The HUD, however, encourages you to engage in a good-faith dialogue with the tenant, which they call the “interactive process.” You cannot insist on specific types of evidence (i.e., details about the diagnosis or severity of a disability or medical records or a medical examination report).

Can I evict a tenant if they got an assistance animal without informing me first?

No. A resident may request a reasonable accommodation at any time, even after acquiring the animal or being sent a lease termination due to the animal’s presence.

Other Highlights from the Update:
  1. Reasonable accommodation requests can involve more that one animal (if a person with a disability requires more than one assistance animal or two individuals living together have a disability-related need for separate assistance animals)
  2. The FHA requires housing providers to modify or make exceptions to policies about animals when it may be necessary for a person with a disability to use an assistance animal.
  3. Individuals need to request a reasonable accommodation (that is, ask to get or keep an animal in connection with a physical or mental impairment or disability) either verbally or in writing.
  4. A person with a disability is responsible for feeding, maintaining, providing veterinary care, and controlling his or her assistance animal. The individual may do this on his or her own or with the assistance of family, friends, volunteers, or service providers.