Therapy Pets and Real Estate

“Therapy Pets”

Have you noticed that more people are walking into open houses, businesses & stores with their emotional support animals . . . more commonly known as “therapy pets”? You may be surprised to learn that these animals are viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHA or FHAct) to those housing communities that have a “no pets” rule.

What is the Law Regarding “Therapy Pets”

In legal terms, an emotional support animal is not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for companionship). In other words, just as a wheelchair provides a person with a physical limitation the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, an emotional support animal provides a person with a mental or psychiatric disability the same opportunity to live independently. Most times, an emotional support animal will be seen as a reasonable accommodation for a person with such a disability. Failure to make reasonable accommodations by changing rules or policies can be a violation of the FHA unless the accommodation would be an undue financial burden on the landlord or cause a fundamental alteration to the premises.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses the term “assistance animal” to cover any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. An emotional support animal is one type of assistance animal allowed as a reasonable accommodation to a residence with a “no pets” rule.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) does apply to almost all housing types including those for sale or rent. This includes apartments, condominiums, and single family homes. There are some major exceptions, such as buildings with four or fewer units where the landlord lives in one of the units. The law also excludes private owners who do not own more than three single family homes, do not use real estate agents or brokers, and do not engage in discriminatory advertising practices. The FHA would then cover homes in a planned community with a “no pets” restriction, owned or rented condominiums with a “no pets” covenant, and apartments with a “no pets” clause in the lease. As long as those housing units do not fall within listed exceptions, landlords or housing associations must comply with the FHA.

Landlords may not charge a “pet fee” for an assistance animal/emotional support animal. These animals are not pets and cannot be subject to pet fees. If it is the policy of the landlord to charge tenants for damage to the tenant’s dwelling unit beyond reasonable wear and tear, then a housing provider may require a tenant to cover the costs for repairs due to damage by the tenant’s assistance animal.

Here are a few links for further information:

The Humane Society – The Fair Housing Act and Companion Animals