I believe everyone knows the importance of adhering to all laws relating to discrimination of any kind in housing. Very often the question of allowing service animals in your rental when your policy is ‘no pets’ is one that I have found some landlords don’t fully understand. First, below is the definition of a service animal as stated by the federal government:

“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA

I ran across a case several years ago that enlightened my knowledge on this law. We had a prospective tenant apply for one of our apartments where we had a ‘no pets’ policy in place and that had a ‘companion’ dog. We asked if the dog had training in being a service dog (the answer was no), we asked how long the applicant had the dog (1 month). We asked the type and size of the dog (50 lb. pitbull). Based on our knowledge of the ADA law (Americans with Disabilities Act) we denied her application. This was based on our policy of no pets along with the knowledge that insurance companies very often cancel the landlord’s policy based on the presence of certain breeds of dogs (pitbulls, German Shepherds etc.). I very promptly received a letter from an attorney (not always a pleasant experience) stating that while we may not have been discriminating against the applicant based on the ADA, we were discriminating against her based on the Fair Housing Act. See the following explanation from Wikipedia:

While the ADA has narrowed the definition of service animals that are required to be permitted in places of public accommodation, other laws still provide broader definitions in other areas. For instance, the Department of Transportation’s regulations enacting the Air Carrier Access Act permit “dogs and other service animals” to accompany passengers on commercial airlines.[4] The Fair Housing Act also requires housing providers to permit service animals (including comfort and emotional support animals) without species restrictions in housing.

Based on our ‘new found’ understanding of the law (and prodding from the attorney) we reversed our decision. It is always wise to consult with your legal counsel before making a decision such as the above.