Service Dogs: Landlord/Tenant Rights

Of the 500 or so housing complaints received by the Disability Law Center in the State of Utah in 2010 and 2011 combined, 80% of them were related to service animals. This rate has increased slightly in recent years meaning that many people, probably people that you know, are experiencing run-ins with the legal system regarding their service or emotional support animals. This is more than enough reason to make sure that as St. George property managers (or as St. George residents in general) we have a working knowledge of the rights and legality surrounding service dogs, as well as tenants rights and landlord rights respectively.

If you are a tenant, you and your assistance animal have rights that are covered in The Fair Housing Act, or FHA. Assistance-related pets and animals (which also legally includes emotional support pets) are protected by law by something called “reasonable accommodation” that is found in the FHA. Basically, according to the law, you are allowed to have a service animal in the home and/or apartment, even it the landlord has originally stated that the home is to have no pets of any kind. The landlords, in these situations, are required to make a “reasonable accommodation” in these instances.

You may already be aware of this, but a good old fashioned pet dog or cat in the traditional sense is completely different than a “service and/or assistance animal”, according to the law. These are working animals kept by physically or mentally disabled people at the request of medical professionals that don’t need any pre-certification of any kind to become such. These are working pets, essentially. It doesn’t matter what breed they are, either. The difference between assistance animals and service animals is that assistance animals are kept specifically for the innate emotional (and in some cases physical) benefits that a disabled person receives from simply having an animal present in their home with them, whereas a service animal is kept to perform a particular task that it’s been trained to do, such as a guide dog for the blind. Also, assistance animals need nothing more than a doctor’s letter of recommendation – a prescription, essentially – and are not allowed in public alongside their owners, whereas service animals must be trained and are allowed in public to remain alongside their owners.

Many people often wonder under what legitimate medical circumstances service dogs must be covered under the “reasonable accommodation” legality mentioned above. There are actually a large variety of circumstances, but some of the most common ones involve dogs and cats who naturally lessen their owner’s anxiety, stress, and depression by simply being present, as well as animals who can notify their owners of things like imminent seizures or visitors (birds often do this). If you are considering getting an assistance animal, make sure you provide your landlord with a doctor’s letter verifying that the animal will help whatever condition you have. Be congenial in your language rather than demanding. The landlord should not require you to pay any fees of any kind as these types of animals or legally not pets. In the unfortunate circumstance that your landlord is unwilling to accommodate your request, file a complaint, or simply print out the appropriate form from the same website and mail it.

Note: If you live in one of the following housing types, the Fair Housing Act, unfortunately, does not cover you:

  • A dwelling that is owned by a religious or private organization that enforce occupancy restrictions of some kind
  • A home where the owner doesn’t use a broker
  • A dwelling where the owners themselves live in a unit connected to the tenant.

Other than that, you’re covered!


 service dogs