Service Animals: General Information

Our clients contact us frequently to ask what accommodation, if any, must be made for owners (or even tenants) who have service animals. Based on extensive research and multiple experiences with clients responding to discrimination complaints, the information we provide to our clients is as follows.

The FHA makes it unlawful to discriminate against any person in the provision of services or facilities in connection with his dwelling, because of a handicap of that person or any person associated with that person. 42 USC 3604(f)(2). Discrimination includes a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. 42 USC 3604(f)(3)(b); 24 CFR 100.204. A request for an exception to a condominium’s pet restriction for a service animal is considered a request for a reasonable accommodation.

To prevail on a claim that a reasonable accommodation was unlawfully denied, an owner would have to show that the owner (or a co-resident of the unit) is handicapped; that the association knew or should reasonably be expected to know of the handicap; that accommodation of the handicap may be necessary to afford the handicapped person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling; that the accommodation is reasonable; and that the association refused to make the requested accommodation.

An association is entitled to information that allows it to make a meaningful review and an informed decision on the request for reasonable accommodation. For example, an association could request a copy of a doctor’s note verifying that the owner is disabled and recommending the use of a service animal to treat the owner’s disability. Such information must be kept confidential and may not be shared with other persons unless they need the information to make or assess a decision to grant or deny a reasonable accommodation request (i.e., sharing the information with the association's attorney who is assisting the Board in reviewing the request for accommodation) or unless disclosure is required by law. An association cannot request copies of the disabled owner’s medical records or more detailed information about the nature of the disability.

Even if your association has a ban on pets or limits the number of pets allowed in a unit, the association cannot consider a service animal a “pet” and refuse to made a reasonable accommodation based on a no-pets or limited pets rule. The Washington State Human Rights Commission states that “Legally, a service animal is not a pet. You are required to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability. A “no pets” policy may be continued, but you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.

In short, if an owner provides information that he is handicapped and that a service dog is necessary to his use and enjoyment of his unit, the association should grant his request for a reasonable accommodation and allow the service animal to remain in the unit, even if the association has a no-pets policy or a limitation on the number of pets allowed per unit.

If you have any questions we can answer, please feel free to leave a comment or contact us directly. We look forward to continuing this conversation with you in our future posts!