Service and Emotional Support Animals in Housing
By DRC-NH staff
Federal and state nondiscrimination laws protect the rights of people with disabilities to have service animals and emotional support animals in their apartments, even when the housing provider has a policy that does not allow pets (or a certain type of animal such as a dog). Service animals are individually trained to perform a task directly related to the person’s disability. Emotional support animals do not require specific training, and their mere presence can have a therapeutic effect for the person with a disability. Under the law, service and emotional support animals are assistance animals and are not considered pets. In most situations, the housing provider must allow you to have an assistance animal if:
- You are a person with a disability. This means you have a medical condition that creates a substantial limitation to a major life activity, such as communication, walking, seeing, hearing, or emotional/social functioning.
- You need the animal to ease the symptoms of your disability or to provide a service to you. There must be a relationship between your ability to function and the assistance your animal provides for you. The animal must be necessary to perform a service or task for you to be able to use and enjoy your home.
Not everyone with a disability is entitled to have an animal living with them. You need to be able to prove that you have a disability, and that the accommodation is necessary. When you ask for a reasonable accommodation to an existing policy, you may need to provide documentation from a medical professional to support your request. Some housing is exempt from the law.
Example: A landlord would not be required to provide pet sitting or cleanup after an animal if the landlord does not provide these services to other tenants. However, existing regulations specifically state that simply allowing an assistance animal does NOT constitute an undue burden.
What if my animal causes a problem?
You are responsible for your animal including cleaning up after it and making sure it is not a nuisance to other tenants. If your animal causes damage, you may be responsible for the costs of cleaning or repair. If your animal is disruptive to other tenants or residents, or is a direct threat to anyone, the housing provider may be justified in refusing to allow the assistance animal to stay, or in taking steps to evict you.
Can the housing provider require an additional deposit?
No. The landlord cannot require you to pay an additional deposit as a condition to allowing you to have the animal, even if deposits are normally required for pets.
Can the housing provider refuse to allow me to have a particular breed or size of dog?
No. Pet rules do not apply to assistance animals. Therefore, housing providers are not allowed to place limits on breed types or size.
How do I request an accommodation to the landlord’s ‘no pet’ rule?
- Make a written request to the housing provider for a reasonable accommodation. The request should state that you have a disability and explain that the requested accommodation is necessary to ease your symptoms or to provide you with a service to enable you to use and enjoy your dwelling.
- Be prepared to provide a letter from your doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, or other health professional verifying that you are a person with a disability and your need for the assistance animal, if not obvious.
- You do not have to disclose your actual diagnosis or medical history.
- You do not have to provide proof of your animal’s training or certification.
Know Your Housing Rights
- People with disabilities can look to both state and federal law to protect their right to have a service or emotional support animal in their rental unit.
- RSA 354-A is New Hampshire’s Fair Housing law and is enforced by the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights.
- The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
DRC-NH, in collaboration with the UNH Institute on Disability and the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities, distribute a quarterly RAP sheet to educate community members and policy makers about the latest research, policy, practice, and advocacy issues affecting individuals with disabilities and their families.