The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was amended in 1988 to protect people with disabilities from housing discrimination. Many of the housing problems faced by people with disabilities are due to unlawful policies and practices held by property owners and also to design and construction errors that occur in the development of housing. Common fair housing problems encountered by people with disabilities include:
- Refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when such an accommodation is necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to enjoy a dwelling. Examples include:
- Refusing to install a curb cut adjacent to an accessible parking space for a person with a wheel chair
- Requiring additional fees or charges for processing requests for accommodations
- Refusing to allow a service animal on the property or charging additional fees for service animals
- Refusal to allow reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by persons with disabilities if such modifications are necessary for the full enjoyment of the premises. Landlords are permitted to place conditions on modifications and to require that the premises be restored to its previous condition once the tenant vacates the premises with reasonable wear and tear expected. A request for a reasonable modification may be made at any time during the tenancy. The request can be written or verbal.
A Note about Service Animals
It is unlawful for a landlord to refuse to allow service animals that a tenant may need to address or mitigate a disability. Service animals are not pets and therefore, are not subject to the same rules, regulations and policies designed for pets or pet owners. Tenants who own service animals should not pay additional pet fees or be subject to additional monthly rent.
Emotional Support Animals
Animals that help alleviate symptoms of a disability can be considered Emotional Support Animals or Service Animals. Under the Fair Housing Act, you have the right to ask your landlord or property manager for a reasonable accommodation for any animal necessary due to a disability.
How can I assert my Fair Housing Rights?
- If you have a disability related need for an Emotional Support Animal, you can request a Reasonable Accommodation by your landlord. This can be done verbally or in writing.
- Emotional support animals are NOT considered pets and you should not be charged pet rent, pet deposit, or other pet fees. Even if the apartment complex states, “NO Pets”, you can request a Reasonable Accommodation for your Emotional Support Animal under the Fair Housing Act.
- A landlord can request documentation ONLY if the disability or disability-related need for the Emotional Support Animal is not obvious. The letter can be written by your doctor, therapist, or someone who is familiar with your disability. The letter does NOT need to list what your disability is, only that you HAVE a disability and an Emotional Support Animal is needed because of your disability.
- HOME has examples of these letters in the Guide for Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications.
What is the Difference Between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal?
- Emotional Support Animals are NOT Service Animals. Service Animals are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities”, including guiding individuals who are Blind, alerting people who are Deaf, assisting a handler who has seizures, etc. Emotional Support Animals do not have to undergo special training.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only recognizes specially trained dogs (and in some cases miniature horses) to be Service Animals. Emotional Support Animals can be cats, dogs, lizards, rabbits, turkeys, etc.
- The ADA states that “entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in areas where members of the public are allowed to go.” Emotional support animals are allowed in your apartment unit and common areas of the apartment complex; however, they may not be allowed out in the general public.
- BOTH service animals and emotional support animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act.
You should not be blocked from housing because you have an Emotional Support Animal or Service Animal.
If you are a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia and feel you have been discriminated against on the basis of a disability, contact Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia at 804-354-0641 or report the suspected discrimination.