I often get questions from prospective tenants and landlords about pet restrictions. One thing that has been clear for a number of years is that service animals (think 'seeing eye dog'), under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), are not pets.
This is not just a real estate issue, it impacts lots of businesses... restaurants, stores and hotels that normally don't allow pets, have had to permit service animals under the ADA for many years. Landlords are no exception.
Then a few years ago there was a new term: "Companion Animal" which got grouped together with service animals. Basically, this is an animal that is not specially trained to perform a task but who benefits their owner by providing companionship. These animals were "prescribed" for conditions like anxiety and depression; we often saw them prescribed for the elderly, or children who have suffered emotional trauma. But, I will be honest, this was abused. I've seen it. People would get their doctors to write notes that said the animal was required so that they could by-pass the rules. Then, landlords, hotels and property managers were forced to accept "companion animals" just like service animals. Not so any more, according to a new ruling by the Department of Justice. Check out the fact sheet from this ruling by clicking HERE. Under this ruling, service animals must be trained to perform a function. This may be the more common "seeing eye dog", but there other services animals can provide, like recognizing the onset of a seizure, helping to operate a wheelchair or assisting someone with other daily living activities.
Professional landlords and real estate agents who are unfamiliar with how the ADA impacts them and their business should read up. To my fellow real estate agents, let me say this, I often see you breaking the law. You are required to follow Fair Housing Laws.... and when you represent an owner, they are required to, too. You, nor your client, can refuse to rent a home to a person with a disability because they have a bonafide service animal. Let me say it again: A service animal is not a pet. You can prohibit pets. You can not prohibit service animals. Not sure if I am right? Below are a couple of web sites for you to check out, and I urge you to attend a Fair Housing training and seek legal counsel to educate yourself further.