Assistance Animals and Fair Housing Q&A and Legal Forms

AAOA’s Assistance Animals and Fair Housing webinar, led by Kathi Williams, Founder of the Fair Housing Institute, was a attended by 600 AAOA members! Needless to say the Q&A portion was filled with great questions we couldn’t get to in time. However, Kathi agreed to write out all the answers to the questions that weren’t addressed and she shared her assistance animal form templates! This invaluable information can give you peace of mind next time a tenant or applicant says “I have an emotional support animal”.

Fair Housing Forms

For fair housing training, news, and resources contact The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.

Request Form For Recognition of an Assistance Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation:

Resident’s Reasonable Accommodation and Modification Request Form:

Reasonable Acommodations and Modifications Verification Form:

Verification of Need For an Assistance Animal (NOT for California):

Please consider these answers as a continuation of the educational webinar and not legal advice. If you are confused about this topic, please seek legal advice.  Also, for those of you who are housing providers and are covered by the Fair Housing Act requirements pertaining to reasonable accommodations and assistance animals, this is a complex topic, so you should consider obtaining additional and continuing fair housing training from

Exemption Questions

Read this explanation of when a housing provider does not have to follow the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. 

How do these work in a unit that is owner occupied?

A:  If you own the unit and live in it, and you do not own more than 2 additional units, you are not covered and do not have to permit assistance animals.

For the FHA exceptions, do certain types of condos count as single-family homes?

A:  For exemption purposes, each condo counts as a single-family dwelling, so if you own three or more, including the home in which you live, you are covered by the Fair Housing Act.

I have a 3 family house in CT. Am I required to submit to reasonable accommodations? What is the minimum requirements for size of property?

A:  If you live in the three family house, and do not own other residential real estate, you are probably not covered by the Fair Housing Act and therefore, not required to make reasonable accommodations.

We own only duplexes. I was reading on a website that the Fair Housing Act or possibly HUD does not apply to buildings with 4 or less units.

A:  This depends on how many total units you own.  If you own 2 duplexes, therefore, 4 units, these requirements pertain to you. If you own only one duplex and another single family unit where you live, since you own 3 or fewer units, the Fair Housing Act does not apply to you.

I have an in-law unit in part of my house with shared HVAC so odors, allergens, etc. from that unit could come through the ducts into my living space. I’m very allergic to cats and birds and scents such as incense. Would I have legal rights to prohibit these based on my allergies?

A:  If you are the property owner, you can make any requirement you choose on your tenant, but it should be explained in a lease.

I am a Realtor. Can I expect condo associations to soon follow the process that you described today? I feel that I need to start educating my Buyer clients about what to expect if they have a support animal.

A:  Condo associations are covered by the Fair Housing Act, because an association is viewed as “being in the business,” so a condo association cannot prohibit an owner, or a tenant of an owner, from living with an assistance animal.  A realtor is always covered because you are viewed as “being in the business” of residential real estate. I have defended many fair housing complaints against condo associations who had no idea they were not free to refuse to permit assistance animals to live in their buildings.

Covered and not covered, I do not understand that terminology, I asked the owner-occupied question, are you saying in a two-family unit that I’m required to accommodate a disable person with a service animal. yes or no?

A:  If you own a two-family unit, and you live in one unit and lease the second unit, and that is the only residential real estate you own, you do not have to permit assistance animals.

Verification Questions:

I instruct applicants to bring supporting documents to their viewing appointment. I utilize a Deadline To Submit, and limit extensions to 2 business days beyond the deadline, as to extend farther may be patently unfair to other applicants. Is my policy reasonable and fair to all?

A:  You do not have to hold a unit available while waiting for verification of a request for reasonable accommodations.  You should consider the applicant for the next vacancy once the verification was received.

We read the HUD policy that we are not able to verify, but that we must use the Guidance for Documentation from HUD only. Is that now not the case? Can we 3rd party verify now?

A:  The HUD Notice is not required to be followed, and you do not have to use HUD’s suggestions for how to verify assistance animals. HUD makes it clear that the verification questions included in the HUD notice are suggestions only.

I heard that people can easily get letters for the need of emotional support animal online with just doing some simple online consultation with some clinic. How do we in terms of language used to verify with those clinics? So they know they are liable with legal consequence for diagnosis they make. Thank you.

A:  You can ask the resident and the verifier if the verifier is providing ongoing medical or therapeutic services.  By the way, I cannot imagine a circumstance where a clinic would be liable for legal consequences, unless your property is in a state that has enacted a statute that makes false statements on a verification form a violation of the law.

Is HUD considering clarifying the source of “certifying” an assistance animal, such as the internet companies that just collect money and provide these certificates?

A:  If the purpose of the website is to register or certifying emotional support animals or any type of assistance animal, you can reject it as a verifier.

My tenant gave me a letter from her doctor but the letter was based on a visit in October 2019 and dated in February 2020 regarding her puppy was a great support for her. However the puppy is only now about 8 weeks old. To me the letter was written in convince verses a fact since the dog was not even born in October

A:  This is one of those situations, where you would be justified to go back to the verifier and ask additional questions.  It is possible that a doctor could gather enough information about the resident during a visit six months ago to fill out a verification form in February, but if you are not clear about this, ask.

How recent do the Dr documentation need to be? Can it be 5 years ago?

A:  There may be some instances where a disability is permanent, where a five year old letter may be adequate, but these would be rare situations, so you are probably justified to request a more recent verification of need.

Sorry my question is do I have to accept the letter from the doctor even though the dates don’t match?

A:  To make sure the date is not merely a typo, go back and check with the verifier.

Questions on Various Topics

Is resident responsible for any damages due to emotional support animals?

A:  Absolutely, a resident is responsible for damages, but you should clarify that fact in an Assistant Animal Agreement/Addendum.

What if other tenants in the building have animal allergies and moved in your building because it has a no pet policy.

A:  This is a situation I call “competing disabilities.” You cannot prohibit a disabled resident from a reasonable accommodation because of another resident’s disability. In other words, you cannot accommodation one resident’s disability by denying another resident her accommodation.  In these situations, you have to try to get both residents’ cooperation and suggest they stay away from each other as much as possible when the animal is present.

Is there a time limited for tenant returning the assistance animal application if we found the tenant has a dog in unit. What about if the tenant did not return the application after a week, what can we do next? Thanks

A:  Make sure you give the resident a written instruction for how much time he has to complete and return the information prior to you initiating a lease termination.  In normal times, 10-15 days is adequate.  Obviously during the COVID-19 period, that time should be extended.

I own 1 small 650 square foot home that I rent out on my own. It is currently vacant. Someone has asked me if it is available (but has not completed a rental application yet) and has advised me they have a “certified” service animal that advises her of a potential oncoming seizure in time for her to take her Rx to help prevent the seizure. How should I proceed with this?

A:  Review the exemption information to decide if you are covered by the Fair Housing Act.  If not, you can do whatever you want to with this situation. If you are covered, you should follow the process set forth in the webinar. Either way, if this is a trained service dog, this resident obviously needs to live with the dog.

I assist with managing a mobile park for seniors where they own their houses. A resident with an authorized occupant that has brought a dog to the home and when the manager found out she was told the dog is an emotional support animal.

A:  This property is covered by the Fair Housing Act.  If this is a legitimate occupant of this property, you will have to consider whether to permit this dog to remain as a reasonable accommodation.  Follow the procedures described in the webinar.

What would be considered a reason to deny an assistance animal request after first considering the request, reviewing etc? Are there standard reasons to deny?

A:  Nothing is “standard” in a reasonable accommodation request other than the steps you follow.  The most common reasons to deny a request for an assistance animals are that the resident is unable to verify that he is disabled; the animal poses a known threat to the property (cannot be based merely on the breed); the resident has a landlord history that indicates the resident is unable to properly care for the animal or prevent the animal from damaging the property, the verifier is “unreliable” because the verifier does not provide medical or therapeutic professional services to the resident; and the resident is unable to justify more than one animal.

What about damages by the animal with quarterly inspections. Without deposit when are they required to pay for the damages and is this ground for eviction if they can’t pay for repairs within 30 days.

A:  This would depend upon your lease and state landlord tenant law. You can charge the resident the damages and in many states you can terminate a lease after a period of time in which the tenant fails to pay the damage assessment.

Are chickens allowed for food source in a semi rural setting?

A:  This depends upon whether the county has animal restrictions.  This is never an issue of whether a housing provider should permit assistance animals.

Is property owner, property manager, property handyman having strong allergies to cats an undue burden and a good reason to decline the Reasonable Accommodation?

A:  Interesting question, but probably not if arrangements can be made to work around the allergies of one or more employees. Another issue is that while cat allergies can be irritating, the symptoms can be addressed and often prevented with medication, so such allergies seldom rise to the level of a disability.

Questions Answered During the Webinar: Please review the recording here.

1)  If they don’t indicate they have an animal when they move in, and you find out they have  THE ANIMAL FOR YEARS.

2)  If the insurance policy does not allow certain aggressive breeds and I cannot find an alternative, can I then refuse the animal?

3)  What if a tenant allows a visitor to bring a pet into the apartment?

4)  Please verify – can you have a policy on what type of animal – ex.- dog – breed or size for emotional support animal?

5)  What about wild animals? are there any restrictions? isn’t a monkey a wild animal? snake Would there be any regulations that protect the owner?

6)  If insurance policy does not allow for certain breeds. This is what the tenant has are you saying we have to change insurance policies that do? Sometimes there will more expenses and or property is covered under a umbrella policy.

7)  Is there a certification that is required for a support animal?