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Housing bias and service animals

By Polyana da Costa ·
Friday, May 3, 2013
Posted: 1 pm ET

"No pets allowed" is not an excuse landlords can use to prevent renters with disabilities from moving in with a service animal.

Liberty, a service dog in training at Helping Paws

Liberty, a service dog in training at Helping Paws.

The reminder comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which issued a notice this week reaffirming the legal rights that people with disabilities have when it comes to housing.

Housing discrimination and disability

The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating based on disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex and familial status. Still, about half of the complaints filed for housing discrimination are based on disability, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance.

"Disability-related complaints, including those that involve assistance animals, are the most common discrimination complaint we receive," says John Trasvina, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Service animals aren't pets

Landlords must provide "reasonable accommodations" to people who need a service animal to assist with a disability, HUD says. Properties that have pet restrictions are not exempt from the law because service animals are not considered pets, HUD says.

In addition, a disabled tenant with a service animal should not be required to pay a pet deposit or a move-in cleaning fee, according to the law.

Service animals, usually dogs, are trained to assist a person with a particular disability, including guiding blind people and alerting deaf people to sounds. They also may assist a person with seizure disorder or someone using a wheelchair who needs help to open doors or to pick up things.

"The vital importance of assistance animals in reducing barriers, promoting independence, and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities should not be underestimated, particularly in the home," Trasvina says.

Reporting housing discrimination

If you need to file a housing discrimination complaint, contact HUD's office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (teletypewriter, or TTY).

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