The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against tenants based on a protected class. It permits tenants to have pets that serve as assistance or emotional support animals, among other protections.
Even if a lease restricts pets or includes a “no pets” clause, this language may be inapplicable if the FHA applies to the tenant’s situation. Landlords must comply with the FHA and its pet requirements if their tenant has a physical or mental impairment requiring a pet for assistance.
This article goes in-depth about the primary reasons landlords need to accommodate pets. Property owners must comply with the FHA or face significant penalties under federal law.
It is easy to comply with the FHA in accommodating pets when you use Legal Templates’ pet addendum to a residential lease agreement.
When the Fair Housing Act Requires a Pet Addendum
The FHA requires landlords to provide reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities. This includes the right to a service or assistance animal to help with a condition that meets FHA’s requirements.
24 C.F.R. § 100.204 makes it unlawful for a landlord to refuse reasonable accommodations in practices, rules, policies, or services, when it’s necessary to help a disabled person use and enjoy a dwelling unit, including public and common areas.
The regulation even uses a pet as an example within the body of the text. The first example is a blind applicant who needs a seeing-eye dog. Although the apartment complex has a “no pets” policy, the owner or manager of the apartment may not refuse the service animal. To do so would be considered discrimination under the FHA.
It is also discrimination to evict a tenant because they need a service or emotional support animal. There are exceptions, like for dangerous or highly destructive animals, but the FHA gives substantial protections to disabled individuals.
Definition of Disability Under the Fair Housing Act
For the pet accommodation to be a requirement, the tenant must have a “qualifying disability” defined within the FHA. People have a qualifying disability if they experience mental or physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities.
The term “mental or physical impairment” can include, but is not limited to:
- Visual impairment or blindness
- Hearing impairment or deafness
- Mobility impairment or paralysis
- HIV infection
- Drug addiction
- Chronic fatigue
- Mental retardation or learning disabilities
- Head injuries
- Mental illness
The term “major life activity” can include:
- Performing manual tasks
- Caring for one’s self
Differences Between Service Animals and Assistance Animals
Service animals do a specific task for their owner and have specialized training to play a particular role. They are not just pets — these animals are uniquely skilled to do what they do. Service animals help the person perform major life activities.
Examples of service animals may include:
- A seeing-eye dog
- A dog, cat, or other animals that can smell oncoming seizures
- Allergy detection dogs
- Mobility assistance dogs
- Autism service dogs
- Diabetic alert dogs
An assistance animal does not perform a specialized task and has not received specific training. Instead, it is a companion animal to help with a disability. For example, a tenant with an assistance animal gains physical or emotional benefits from the pet living in the home. This scenario usually only requires a letter from a therapist or medical doctor to qualify an animal as an assistance animal.
Examples of assistance animals might include:
- A stress-relief dog
- An emotional support animal
- A cat to reduce panic attacks and anxiety
- A dog who alleviates depression
- A bird who reduces a tenant’s stress-induced pain
Additional Benefits of Having a Pet Addendum Policy
In addition to FHA compliance, there are other benefits to offering pet addendums as an option for your renters. A Los Angeles Times survey revealed that more than 70% of apartment renters own pets. Dogs and cats were the most popular type.
More than two-thirds of pet owners had difficulty finding an apartment that allowed animals. Allowing pets in your apartments can help you reduce the time you spend looking for renters.
Advertising as pet-friendly can open up the number of people interested in renting from you. A pet addendum lets you control rules for animals in your rental, how you and the tenant will handle damages, and much more. It outlines tenant rights and your rights as a landlord related to the pet.
You do not have to create a pet addendum from scratch. To help you comply with the FHA, you can use Legal Templates’ step-by-step builder to create a pet addendum to a lease agreement.