It’s not uncommon for an apartment building or condominium association to have a “no pets” policy in place, but not all animals can be turned away under these policies.
Attorney Daniel Parmeter, of Mika Meyers, said there are two categories of animals that are covered under laws related to housing accommodations.
Service animals are the better-known category.
Service animals must be allowed in all public accommodations where the public is allowed to go as well as housing accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
These animals — which can only be dogs — are not considered pets but rather working animals, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. They have been trained to perform a specific task.
The second, lesser-known, category is emotional support animals. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords and condominium associations must allow reasonable accommodation for animals providing emotional support.
Emotional support animals are not limited to one type of animal and don’t require specific task training because it is their presence that provides the needed assistance to their owner.
A person with a service dog or an emotional support animal cannot be denied housing because of the animal, according to Parmeter. It is also against the law to ask about someone’s disability, and a landlord cannot try to determine whether someone “really has a disability” or not.
“Sometimes landlords are trying to make a judgment of whether or not someone has a disability, and they don’t get to make that call,” Parmeter said. “That is not their right.”
But landlords should still follow procedure where service and emotional support animals are involved.
What a landlord is allowed to do if a tenant or prospective tenant asks for a reasonable accommodation is to ask the person to obtain certification in writing from a mental health professional confirming the animal is an emotional support animal. For instance, if the emotional support animal is helping the individual with depression, then that letter might come from a psychologist who is treating the person.
Parmeter said the use of emotional support animals may increase as more people become aware of them and their benefits.
While the two are not necessarily related, he said he also is beginning to see a trend of apartment buildings and condominium associations moving away from no pet policies.