Service Animals and Fair Housing

Let’s start off by saying this: Legally… Service Animals are NOT pets!

While they may look similar to your everyday furry friend, there’s a big distinction to keep in mind. This distinction is especially important for landlords to know when it comes to handling tenants. Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions and misconceptions when it comes to Service Animals in real estate.

Number 1: “I have a “No Pets Policy” in my lease, so I can legally deny someone’s service animal.”
This is WRONG. In the eyes of the law, service animals are not pets. Because of this, you may not legally deny someone’s service animal. As long as someone has a certificate, there is no grey area about it. The law is the law! If a landlord states that they do not want animals in the building in order to deny a service animal, this is against the law. Federal Law indicates that service animals are not classified as “Pets” and therefore are protected under Fair Housing laws.

Number 2: “Can I ask my tenant to provide documentation of their disability so I can see why they need a service animal?”
Under New York State fair housing laws you can ask an individual to provide documentation of their disability, but not ask what the disability is, from a doctor or a therapist. But this is not something that will then allow you to deny the individual. This step is used to educate and gain further insight into your tenants’ situation, rather than to deny their service animal. If you use this information to deny those with a disability based on their service animal, or reject their application, you are breaking the law.

Number 3: “If I’m a landlord in Westchester County, where can I find more information to help further my understanding of this topic?”
For landlords in Westchester County, you can contact Westchester Residential Opportunities at 914-428-4507 for further information and education on service animals and fair housing laws.

In conclusion, when it comes to violating fair housing laws, this is a bridge you do not want to cross. The law is THE LAW for a reason! Service Animals are members of a protected class in that they benefit those with disabilities. If you wouldn’t deny someone with a visible or unseen disability from living in your units, then why would you deny a service animal?

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