What assistance animals, service animals mean when it comes to housing

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By: Christel Silver Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of an Assistance Animal is: “An Assistance Animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An assistance animal is not a pet.”

What does this mean to the landlord? Here is one example: Even if the owner has a “no pet” policy, if a deaf tenant explains that the dog is an assistance animal that will alert him to several sounds, the landlord must make an exception to its “no pets” policy to accommodate this tenant.  He/she cannot charge a pet deposit for the animal, because it is not a pet. The landlord also cannot ask for proof that the animal is trained. This rule does not only apply only to dogs, it could be a cat, a ferret or another animal.

Service Animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. The owners can train the animal themselves. They are not required to use professional service dog training programs. But they have to comply with local and state animal control or public health requirements, like leash laws and vaccination requirements.

Service Animals are working animals, not pets. They are trained to provide direct service to the person’s disability. The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.  If your tenant has a pit bull breed as service dog, you cannot deny the tenant, because the HOA is not allowing pit bulls in the community.

The U.S. Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here are some rules a landlord needs to know: No questions can be asked if it is obvious what service the animal provides, for example a dog guiding a blind person.

When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, you are only allowed to ask these questions: (1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform. The landlord cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

The owner must maintain control of the animal at all times through voice, signal, or other effective controls. Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.

You may have seen the picture in the news about a miniature horse service animal on an airplane. The Justice Department revised ADA regulations and added a provision for miniature horses. They have to be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.

What is a miniature horse? Its height is generally 24 inches to 34 inches (measured to the shoulders). The weight is generally between 70 and 100 pounds. There are some requirements to allow a miniature horse: It must be house broken and the owner has to be in control, the accommodations must be able to facilitate the size and weight of the miniature horse and its presence has to be safe for the facility. For more information contact: www.ADA.gov

About Christel Silver

Christel Silver is a full time Broker/Owner of Silver International Realty servicing the East Coast of South Florida. Silver is a Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS), and a certified speaker teaching CIPS classes. She served the Florida Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) Chapter as President, as Regional Vice President helping Chapters to grow, and as a member of the Board of Directors for two years. She is the Global Ambassador for Austria and Germany in 2019. Fifty percent of her business is in the International arena. For more information visit www.silverhouses.com.