Home > Publications > Articles

Service Animal Guidelines
By: Craig Mordoh, Esq. | Date: Wednesday. April 25, 2007



SERVICE ANIMAL GUIDELINES

BACKGROUND

The Federal Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and California state law require that applicants and tenants with disabilities be provided with "reasonable accommodations" as needed, in order for them to have an opportunity for full use and enjoyment of their housing. Allowing tenants and their guests who have disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals is a reasonable accommodation to housing policy and practice.

WHO NEEDS SERVICE ANIMALS?

Some disabled people require the assistance of an animal because of their disabling conditions. Under most federal laws, a person is considered to be disabled if s/he has a sensory, mental or physical condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, seeing, working, etc.).

WHAT IS A SERVICE ANIMAL?

The most common service animals are dogs, but sometimes other species are used (for example, a cat or a bird). Service animals may be any breed, size or weight. Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or "certified" and/or have identification papers. However, there is no legal requirement for service animals to be visibly identified or to have documentation.

The ADA defines a service animal as "any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability." The Fair Housing Act considers "companion" animals to be a type of service animal; however, they are not always trained to perform tasks.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SERVICE ANIMAL AND A PET?

Service animals are not considered to be pets. A person with a disability uses a service animal as an auxiliary aid -- similar to the use of a cane, crutches or wheelchair. For this reason, fair housing laws require that housing providers make modifications to "No Pet" policies to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability. Also, pet fees cannot be charged for service animals (see guidelines below).

WHAT DO SERVICE ANIMALS DO?

Service animals perform many types of services for those with disabilities. Here are some examples:
· A guide animal serves as a travel tool by a person who is legally blind.
· A hearing animal alerts a person with significant hearing loss or who is deaf when a sound occurs, such as a ringing alarm or a knock on the door.
· A service animal helps a person who has a mobility or health disability. Duties may include carrying, fetching, opening doors, ringing doorbells, activating elevator buttons, steadying a person while walking, helping a person up after a fall, etc. Service animals sometimes are called assistance animals.
· A seizure response animal assists a person with a seizure disorder. The animal's service depends on the person's needs. The animal may go for help, or may stand guard over the person during a seizure. Some animals have learned to predict a seizure and warn the person.
· A companion animal or emotional support animal assists people with psychological disabilities. Emotional support animals can help alleviate symptoms such as depression, anxiety, stress and difficulties regarding social interactions, allowing tenants to live independently and fully use and enjoy their living environment.
Because service animals provide different types of assistance, a person with a disability may require more than one service animal.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER TENANTS WHO ARE AFRAID OF OR ALLERGIC TO ANIMALS?

While some people might have fear of dogs or other animals, this fear does not amount to a disability, so a housing provider need not "accommodate" the fear. For most people with allergies, the presence of an animal will cause only minor discomfort, such as sneezing or sniffling. Because this reaction does not constitute a disability, no accommodation is necessary for the allergic person. Rarely, a tenant's allergy is so severe that animal contact may cause respiratory distress; in these cases, the allergic tenant may also request an accommodation (for example, to keep the animal and the allergic tenant in separate areas of the building, as much as is possible).


GUIDELINES FOR STAFF
SERVICE ANIMAL ACCOMMODATION:

Property management must review all requests a disabled tenant makes for reasonable accommodations, including requests for a service animal accommodation. You can require the tenant to provide written verification from the tenant's healthcare or mental health provider that the tenant has a disability and needs the service animal (the provider need not be an M.D.). You can require proof that the tenant is disabled, but cannot require the tenant to provide information about the specific disability.

PET RULES AND "NO PETS" RULES:

If you allow tenants to have common household pets and you place limitations on the size, weight, and type of pets allowed, these rules do not apply to service animals. Service animals may be any type of animal and any breed, size or weight, and an accommodation may involve more than one service animal.

If your housing complex has a "no pets" rule, such rules do not apply to service animals. If property management has documentation that the tenant has a disability and needs the service animal as a result, then the tenant can live with the animal despite the no pets rule.

DEPOSITS AND FEES:

A service animal is not a pet. Regardless of whether your property allows pets, the disabled tenant who uses a service animal is not required to make a pet deposit or pay a pet-related move-in cleaning fee. You may charge a general cleaning or damage deposit charged to all tenants. The tenant is liable for any damage the animal actually causes.

ANIMAL CARE AND SUPERVISION:

The tenant/handler has the responsibility to care for and supervise the animal. The tenant must retain full control of the animal at all times. This generally means that while the animal is in common areas, it is on leash, in a carrier, or otherwise in the direct control of the animal owner/handler. When in the presence of others, the animal is expected to be well behaved (not jumping on or nipping at people, not snarling or barking, etc.).

REMOVAL OF A SERVICE ANIMAL:

If a service animal is unruly or disruptive (aggressively jumping on people, nipping, or other harmful behavior), the property manager may ask the tenant/handler to remove the animal from the immediate area. If the animal's improper behavior happens repeatedly, the manager may tell the tenant not to bring the animal into any common area, until significant steps have been taken to mitigate the behavior. Mitigation can include refresher training for both the animal and the tenant.

AREAS OFF-LIMITS TO SERVICE ANIMALS:

Management may designate certain areas off limits to service animals, such as swimming in the pool or inside the sauna room. Such designations should not infringe upon the right of a person with disabilities to full enjoyment of the amenities of the community.