Support Animal - Housing
Last time we talked about what makes a service animal a service animal and not just a dog or family pet. There is another class of dog we want to define and that is the Emotional Support Animal or Comfort Animal. Unlike service dogs, these dogs are not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); but there are some protections that allow an individual to keep their emotional support animal with them in certain areas.
Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are many times used as part of a medical treatment plan or in a therapeutic role. They are not trained in specific tasks; but provide assistance for individuals experiencing difficulty with physical, social, emotional or cognitive functioning. These animals may provide companionship and help with conditions such as:
- Certain phobias
Some states’ laws vary in where and when a comfort animal may accompany its handler. The fact that comfort animals are not exclusively assisting the disabled is why they are not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Let’s be reasonable
“Reasonable accommodation” is a frequently-occurring phrase in the Fair Housing Act. Many landlords have a strict “No Pets” policy; but if you have a comfort animal, do you need to find other living arrangements? Nope! Reading this piece of legislation was interesting. Though property owners have a little more discretion as to which questions they can ask of you, you may also ask for reasonable accommodation for you and your emotional support animal. Here is what you need to know:
- All housing providers are subject to the rules of the Fair Housing Act (FHA)
- A comfort animal is not a pet and must perform assistance, alleviating one or more symptoms of the person’s disability
- The animal is not required to be trained or certified in performing a specific assistance task
- While only dogs are service animals, other animals can be considered comfort animals
- The housing provider needs to evaluate your request to have the animal based on these questions from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and make a determination of whether to allow the animal:
- Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
- Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person's existing disability?
- Breed, size and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal.
- A determination that an assistance animal poses a direct threat of harm to others or would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others must be based on an individualized assessment that relies on objective evidence about the specific animal's actual conduct — not on mere speculation or fear. In other words, if your new landlord has a problem with big dogs and you have a sweet, gentle, well-behaved 90lb pittie mix, that alone should not return a “no” verdict from your potential landlord.
- If your animal is determined to be an emotional support animal and a pet deposit or fee normally applies, it doesn’t apply to you.
- Housing providers may ask individuals who have disabilities that are not readily apparent or known to the provider to submit reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for an assistance animal. That may be documentation from your caregiver such as a:
- Mental health provider
- Social worker
That covers the majority of where to crash with your comfort animal.We were going to cover air travel; but we can see that perhaps that is a topic better saved for next time. Until then, we want to hear from you. Have you or someone you know encountered sticky or awkward situations with your comfort animal? Tell us about it.