What is a Service Animal?
A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Service animals are regulated by the American’s with Disability Act (ADA). Title III of the ADA prevents private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. A service animal is typically certified in the type of work or tasks it performs. The provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks.
Read the Americans with Disabilities Act
What is a Companion Animal?
A companion animal is an animal that provides emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship to an individual. For the applicant to qualify for a companion animal the applicant must have a letter from a qualified mental health professional on his/her letterhead that states the applicant is under his/her care, is emotionally or psychiatrically disabled, and prescribes for the applicant a companion animal. Without this letter, if the applicant presents an animal as a companion animal, the applicant may be in violation of federal law. Companion animals are regulated by the Fair Housing Act (FHA), not the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Companion animals may sometimes be referred to as emotional support animals or therapy animals.
Read the Americans with Disabilities Act
What is a Household Pet?
A household pet is a domesticated animal, such as a dog, cat, bird, rodent (including a rabbit), fish, or turtle, that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure. This does not include service animals, companion animals, agricultural livestock or animals used for commercial purposes.
What are the Differences Between a Service and Companion Animal?
A service animal must be individually trained to perform work or tasks directly related to the handler’s disability, while a companion animal provides emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship to an individual.
Companion animals are not individually trained to perform any specific kind of task. The principal service that companion animals provide is emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship to an individual. Companion animals must be prescribed by a qualified mental health professional. While service animals are trained to behave flawlessly in public, companion animals may or may not be as well-behaved. As a result, companion animals may be virtually indistinguishable from a household pet.
The ADA requires private places of public accommodation to make “reasonable modifications” to accommodate service animals. The FHA and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) implementing regulations require most housing providers to evaluate any request for reasonable accommodation for a service animal or companion animal using the general principles applicable to all reasonable accommodation requests.
What Documentation may be Required by Service Providers?
A service provider is permitted to request reasonable documentation to confirm the classification of a service or companion animal if the applicant’s disability is not readily apparent or already known to the service provider (HUD). The determination of whether the applicant has a disability-related need for a service or companion animal involves an individualized assessment. Reasonable documentation may include the following:
- Service Animals
- A service animal certification letter
- Companion Animals
- A letter from a qualified mental health professional prescribing a companion animal
What is the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life. Title III covers private places of public accommodation which is relevant to service animals.
Read the Americans with Disabilities Act
What is Title III of the ADA?
Title III of the ADA prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Examples of public accommodations include privately-owned, leased or operated facilities like hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, doctor’s offices, golf courses, private schools, day care centers, health clubs, sports stadiums, movie theaters, and so on. This title sets the minimum standards for accessibility, alterations, and new construction of facilities. It also requires public accommodations to remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense. This title directs businesses to make “reasonable modifications” to their usual ways of doing things when serving people with disabilities. It also requires that they take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities. This title is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Read the Americans with Disabilities Act Subchapter III
What is the Fair Housing Act (FHA)?
The Fair Housing Act is a federal act in the United States intended to protect the buyer or renter of a dwelling from seller or landlord discrimination. Its primary prohibition makes it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person’s inclusion in a protected class. The goal is a unitary housing market in which a person’s background (as opposed to financial resources) does not arbitrarily restrict access. Protected classes include race, color, religion, national origin, disability, and familial status.
Where are Reasonable Accommodations for Service and Companion Animals?
If a person is physically impaired (disabled) and has individually trained service dog to perform a major life task that the person has trouble performing for him or herself, or a companion animal prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, the Fair Housing Act requires the landlord/property manager to make a reasonable accommodation to their policies and allow the tenant to have a service or companion animal. This includes species, breed, and weight policies.
That means if they have a “cats only” policy, they must accept a service dog. If they have a policy that allows dogs weighing no more than 30 lbs. and a qualified companion animal weighs 75 lbs., they must make a change in the rules to accommodate the animal. If they accept all dogs, except pit bulls, and the qualified companion animal is a pit bull, they must make a change in the rules to accommodate the animal.
EXCEPTIONS: Property managers and landlords are NOT required to make a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act for service or companion animals in the following cases:
- Buildings with 4 or fewer units where the landlord occupies one of the units
- Single-family housing sold or rented without a real estate broker
- Hotels and Motels are not considered dwellings under the FHA but are considered places of public accommodation under the ADA
- Private Clubs
The following are excerpts from a HUD memo issued April 25 2013 regarding reasonable accommodations for service and companion animals under the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1972 (504):
*the references to “assistance animal(s)” in the excerpts from the HUD memo includes service and companion animals.
“The FHAct and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) implementing regulations prohibit discrimination because of disability and apply regardless of the presence of Federal Financial assistance. Section 504 and HUD’s Section 504 regulations apply a similar prohibition on disability discrimination to all recipients of financial assistance from HUD. The reasonable accommodation provisions of both laws must be considered in situations where persons with disabilities use (or seek to use) assistance animals in housing where the provider forbids residents from having pets or otherwise imposes restrictions or conditions relating to pets and other animals.”
“An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an 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. Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the FHAct nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.”
“Housing providers are to evaluate a request for a reasonable accommodation to possess an assistance animal in a dwelling using the general principles applicable to all reasonable accommodation requests.
After receiving such a request, the housing provider must consider the following:
- 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?
If the answer to question (1) or (2) is “no,” then the FHAct and Section 504 do not require a modification to a provider’s “no pets” policy, and the reasonable accommodation request may be denied.”
“Where the answers to questions (1) and (2) are “yes,” the FHAct and Section 504 require the housing provider to modify or provide an exception to a “no pets” rule or policy to permit a person with a disability to live with and use an assistance animal(s) in all areas of the premises where persons are normally allowed to go, unless doing so would impose an undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services. The request may also be denied if: the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, or the specific assistance animal in question would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation. 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 about the types of harm or damage an animal may cause and not on evidence about harm or damage that other animals have caused. Conditions and restrictions that housing providers apply to pets may not be applied to assistance animals. For example, while housing providers may require applicants or residents to pay a pet deposit, they may not require applicants and residents to pay a deposit for an assistance animal.”
“A housing provider may not deny a reasonable accommodation request because he or she is uncertain whether or not the person seeking the accommodation has a disability or a disability-related need for an assistance animal. 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. If the disability is readily apparent or known but the disability-related need for the assistance animal is not, the housing provider may ask the individual to provide documentation of the disability-related need for an assistance animal. For example, the housing provider may ask persons who are seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal that provides emotional support to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability. Such documentation is sufficient if it establishes that an individual has a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support.”
“However, a housing provider may not ask a tenant or applicant to provide documentation showing the disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal if the disability or disability-related need is readily apparent or already known to the provider. For example, persons who are blind or have low vision may not be asked to provide documentation of their disability or their disability-related need for a guide dog. A housing provider also may not ask an applicant or tenant to provide access to medical records or medical providers or provide detailed or extensive information or documentation of a person’s physical or mental impairments. Like all reasonable accommodation requests, the determination of whether a person has a disability-related need for an assistance animal involves an individualized assessment. A request for a reasonable accommodation may not be unreasonably denied, or conditioned on payment of a fee or deposit or other terms and conditions apply to applicants or residents with pets, and a response may not be unreasonably delayed. Persons with disabilities who believe a request for a reasonable accommodation has been improperly denied may file a complaint with HLTD.”
Read the full HUD memo
How does the ADA define a Service Animal?
The following is an excerpt from a HUD memo issued April 25, 2013, regarding the ADA definition of “Service Animal”…
“Section II – The ADA Definition of ‘Service Animal’
In addition to their reasonable accommodation obligations under the FHAct and Section 504, housing providers may also have separate obligations under the ADA. Dal’s revised ADA regulations define “service animal” narrowly as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The revised regulations specify that “the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”8Thus, trained dogs are the only species of animal that may qualify as service animals under the ADA (there is a separate provision regarding trained miniature horses9), and emotional support animals are expressly precluded from qualifying as service animals under the ADA.
The ADA definition of “service animal” applies to state and local government programs, services activities, and facilities and to public accommodations, such as leasing offices, social service center establishments, universities, and other places of education. Because the ADA requirements relating to service animals are different from the requirements relating to assistance animals under the FHAct and Section 504, an individual’s use of a service animal in an ADA-covered facility must not be handled as a request for a reasonable accommodation under the FHAct or Section 504. Rather, in ADA-covered facilities, an animal need only meet the definition of “service animal” to be allowed into a covered facility. 7Ibid. II28 C.F.R. § 35.104; 28 C.F.R. § 36.104. 28 C.F.R. § 35.136(i); 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(0(9). 4
To determine if an animal is a service animal, a covered entity shall not ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability, but may make two inquiries to determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal. A covered entity may ask: (1) Is this a service animal that is required because of a disability? and (2) What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform? A covered entity shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. These are the only two inquiries that an ADA-covered facility may make even when an individual’s disability and the work or tasks performed by the service animal are not readily apparent (e.g., individuals with a seizure disability using a seizure alert service animal, individual with a psychiatric disability using psychiatric service animal, individual with an autism-related disability using an autism service animal).
A covered entity may not make the two permissible inquiries set out above when it is readily apparent that the animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (e.g., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person’s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability). The animal may not be denied access to the ADA-covered facility unless: (1) the animal is out of control and its handler does not take effective action to control it; (2) the animal is not housebroken (i.e., trained so that, absent illness or accident, the animal controls its waste elimination); or the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level by a reasonable modification to other policies, practices and procedures.1°A determination that a service animal poses a direct threat must be based on an individualized assessment of the specific service animal’s actual conduct — not on fears, stereotypes, or generalizations. The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where members of the public are normally allowed to go.”
Read the full HUD memo