More than 80 million Americans own a pet.  Many of us consider them a part of our family, but for some their value goes far beyond companionship.  While service animals provide legitimate assistance to those with disabilities, the controversy related to emotional support animals (ESA) continues to generate headlines as people seek a “prescription” that includes everything from hamsters to peacocks and yes… Pigs.

Where does that leave property owners who find themselves in a situation where a tenant is seeking an exception to the “no-pets” policy?

Title 42 of the United States Code requires that landlords “make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” Simply put, property owners may be required to waive a “no pets” policy if the tenant meets the criteria under the Fair Housing Act.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued FHEO-2013-01 which states:

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 – ie., 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 on 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.

When faced with such an accommodation request, it’s important to know that the tenant must show their need is connected to their disability and the request is reasonable.  According to the FHA, an accommodation is reasonable if it doesn’t impose an undue financial or administrative burden.  Making the wrong decision could violate the law and potentially require the landlord to have to pay damages to the disabled renter.


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