Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider cannot refuse housing to someone who is disabled because of their disability. Just as important, the law requires housing providers to accommodate a person’s disability by changing or modifying a rule or policy or practice when doing so is necessary to give the disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy his or her unit.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider who has established a "no pet" policy must allow a disabled resident to keep a service animal as a reasonable accommodation. The housing provider must allow the disabled resident to keep the service animal if three conditions are met: (1) the resident must meet the definition of handicap as defined in the fair housing law; (2) the housing provider must know about or should have know about the resident’s handicap; and (3) the accommodation may be necessary to afford the disabled resident an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling.
Example: A blind applicant for rental housing wants to live in a dwelling unit with a seeing-eye dog. The building has a “no pets” policy. It is a violation of the law for the owner or manager of the apartment complex to refuse to permit the applicant to live in the apartment without the seeing-eye dog because without the seeing-eye dog the blind person will not have the opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling.
When an applicant or resident who has a disability requests to live with a service animal, follow the usual accommodation process. It is a “reasonable accommodation” to allow residents to live with service animals that meet their disability-related needs.
- A service animal (also referred to as an assistance animal) usually is defined as “any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” Fair housing laws also consider “emotional support” or “companion” animals to be a type of service or assistance animal.
- Service animals are not pets. A person with a disability uses a service animal as an auxiliary aid – similar to the use of a cane, crutches or wheelchair. Fair housing laws require that service animals be permitted despite “no pet” rules.
- Owners of service animals should not be charged pet deposits or fees. General cleaning or damage deposits can be charged, if all residents are similarly charged. A resident with a service animal is liable for any damage the animal causes.
- While the most common service animals are dogs, they may be other species, such as cats, monkeys, birds or other animals.
- Service animals may be any breed, size or weight. Do not apply pet size or weight limitations to service animals.
- There is no legal requirement for service animals to wear visible identification (i.e., special collar or harness) or to have documentation (i.e., license, training certification or identification papers). Thus, if might not be evident at first sight whether a dog is a service animal.
- Although there is no legal requirement for service animals to wear visible identification, if a service animal is “wearing a harness or if the hearing dog or service dog is wearing a blaze orange leash and collar, hearing dog cape, or service dog backpack, and the person with disabilities being led or accompanied has in his or her possession a pictured identification card certifying that the dog was trained by a qualified organization or trainer,” Michigan law imposes criminal penalties (jail and/or fines) on any person who fails to reasonably accommodate the service animal. See M.C.L.A. 750.502(c) and 751.61 et seq.
- A person may train his or her own service animal.
- Because service animals provide different types of assistance, in some cases a person with a disability may require more than one service animal.
- The service animal’s owner is responsible for the animal’s care, should observe leash laws, properly dispose of animal waste, and ensure the animal behaves around others and does not break tenancy rules (such as noise rules).
It is critical to remember that a service animal is not a pet. Various fair housing laws require housing providers to modify their "no pets" policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean the housing provider must abandon its "no pets" policy altogether, but simply that it must make an exception to its general rule for service animals.
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