Tenant Tip: Fair housing & service animals

Solid Ground’s Tenant Counselors receive frequent questions about tenants’ rights around having service or assistive animals in housing in Washington state. Common questions include:

  • What information can my landlord ask about my need for a service animal?
  • How do I go about requesting permission from my landlord to have a service animal?

4-H-vols-dogs-at-BFP-015To gain a better understanding, it is helpful to know the Fair Housing definitions of “Disability,” “Reasonable Accommodation” and “Service Animal.”

  • Disability: The Washington State Law Against Discrimination defines disability as a sensory, mental, or physical condition that significantly limits a person’s ability to perform major daily functions (e.g., seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working).
  • Reasonable Accommodation: This is a change in rules, policies, practices or services that enable a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space. (E.g., A building with a “no pets” policy might make a reasonable accommodation for a blind tenant in allowing the tenant to keep a guide dog.)
  • Service Animals: These are animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Service animals are not pets.

A service animal must be allowed even in a no-pets building, and a landlord cannot charge a pet fee or collect a pet deposit for a service animal. The tenant is responsible for their service animal and its behavior in the building. If the service animal causes damages, the tenant may be charged for the repairs. If the animal is not house broken or is out of control and the tenant does not take effective action to control it, the landlord may ask the individual to obtain corrective training for the service animal or even to remove the service animal from their home.

Also, a landlord may not ask the nature of the disability. If the disability is clearly obvious (such as a person who is blind, using a guide dog), the landlord may not ask questions about the disability or the need for the animal. The landlord cannot require documentation for the animal, such as a certificate or license. If the disability is not obvious, they may ask for a letter from the tenant’s service provider (a medical professional or other professional who knows about your disability and accommodation needs, such as a peer support group or non-medical service provider) documenting that the tenant has a disability and that there is a disability-related need for the animal.

Our sample letter to request Reasonable Accommodations has language that can help you request a service animal.

More than one agency oversees and enforces the laws on this topic, depending on where the person resides, and the following four agencies oversee service animal investigations:

  • Seattle: Seattle Office for Civil Rights
  • Tacoma: Tacoma Human Rights
  • Unincorporated King County: King County Office of Civil Rights & Open Government
  • Everywhere else in Washington state: U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD)

Want to find out more about Service Animals? Check out the following resources:

This post was contributed by Tenant Counselor Jeanne Winner. The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767, Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Having trouble renting with a service animal?

Many renters who have a disability and use a service or companion animal experience difficulties finding stable housing. This is true for some of the people who come to the Housing Stabilization Services program at Solid Ground. HSS supports families and individuals who are at imminent risk of housing loss so they can secure stable housing and prevent homelessness.

HSS case managers negotiate with prospective landlords on behalf of people who face housing barriers such as: economic, credit and background issues, or other risk factors preventing housing stabilization. People who have a disability and use a service animal may have been wrongfully denied housing many times and have a much harder time finding housing. While denying someone based on this status is discriminatory according to Federal and State laws, it is an all-too-common problem.

Individuals who use a service or companion animal are a protected class. Refusing to rent to them is discrimination and is illegal. Both Federal and State laws prohibit discrimination based on the use of a service animal. Discrimination in housing is detailed in the Fair Housing Act and Washington State Law.

When landlords deny housing to individuals with a disability, oftentimes their explanation has been that they have a “no pet policy.” According to the law, a service animal is considered to be a working animal, not a pet. The service animal must be permitted to accompany the person with a disability to any area where the public is allowed.

Moreover, housing providers must accommodate a person’s disability and her or his needs. A landlord or property manager cannot ask you for any details about what your disability is, nor seek proof of a service animal’s status. They may ask for a healthcare provider’s statement indicating that the tenant has a disability and will be assisted with a service animal. However, the type of disability doesn’t have to be disclosed.

You can find contact information for Fair Housing agencies through the City of Seattle’s website.

If you think that you have been discriminated against due to having a disability or based on other protected classes, please contact a Fair Housing agency in your community and ask how to file a formal complaint with them. Oftentimes Fair Housing agencies are able to provide detailed information about their complaint, investigation and fine processes before you file a complaint.

You can also access a recent Tenant Tip written by Solid Ground tenant counselors to find out more information on Fair Housing laws as well as resources to deal with discrimination. You may also access information about your rights as a renter by visiting Solid Ground’s Tenant Services website or by contacting our Tenant Services Hotline to speak with a tenant counselor about your specific situation. The tenant services hotline is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.

(Editor’s note: This post was a collaborative project between Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Edlira Kuka and HSS Case Manager Pamela Calderon.)

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

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