Service dogs are trained to provide assistance with a host of tasks to help mitigate their person’s disability. They can help retrieve items for people with limited mobility or sense an impending seizure or cardiac episode. They can even detect if their owner’s blood sugar is at dangerous levels and alert others if it’s a medical emergency.
If you use a service dog, you probably know your rights about bringing your dog to public places. But what if you need to find a place to rent with your service dog? In this post, we’ll take a quick look at renters’ rights, exceptions to the guidelines, and types of assistance dogs protected under the law.
Note, the following information pertains mainly to US federal law. Each state may have slightly different regulations.
Finding the Right Housing Begins with Knowing Your Rights
Renting with a pet can be challenging in general, as many landlords don’t allow them or charge hefty fees to keep one. But people who need a service dog are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act from those and many other limitations:
- Apartment management isn’t allowed to turn away tenants with a service dog, even if there is a no-pet policy.
- If the rental apartment does allow pets, service animal owners do not have to pay deposits, fees, pet rent, etc.
- The landlord is prohibited from requesting the tenant’s medical records, asking about the nature of the tenant’s condition, or requesting proof of their disability.
- The landlord is also prohibited from requiring the owner to provide proof of their service dog’s abilities or that the dog has been trained by a specific organization.
- Apartment management cannot discriminate against a service dog based on breed or size restrictions.
Note: Under the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines, renters can verify a service dog’s legitimacy by asking:
- “Is the dog required because of a disability?”
- “What tasks/work has the dog been trained to do?”
Note: If the landlord can prove they were intentionally misled about the dog’s purpose, it is within their rights to take legal action against the tenant.
Instances Where the Law May Not Apply
Although the rights of service animals and their owners are protected, there are some circumstances where the laws don’t apply when it comes to renting. Landlords can restrict your rights as a tenant if:
- The landlord is a private owner who doesn’t use real estate brokers or agents or own up to three single-family houses.
- The building has four or fewer units, and the landlord lives in one of them.
- The property is section 8, or government-owned housing.
Or the landlord can turn away the dog or evict the tenant if:
- The service dog isn’t house-trained.
- The dog threatens the health or safety of others, and the threat can’t be reasonably mitigated. It is worth noting that the landlord is responsible for providing evidence that the dog is dangerous or a health risk.
What if I am within my legal rights, but the landlord refuses to rent to me?
If you are refused housing after providing the appropriate documentation (if applicable), you can report the discrimination to the Department of Housing and Urban Development or your local state agency.
Assistance Dog Definitions
Sled pulling, bomb-sniffing, cancer-detecting, livestock herding; dogs can do many jobs if trained appropriately. But dogs that fall under the “assistance dog” category are trained to do different tasks:
- A service dog (SD) is trained to help an individual with physical or psychiatric disabilities. For example, they may retrieve or carry items, pull a wheelchair, alert to and interrupt panic attacks, alert others if their owner has a medical emergency, and more.
- Emotional support animals (ESA) support people with emotional disorders or mental health conditions by providing companionship. ESAs are not required to receive training the way that service dogs do. As such, they may not have the same renters’ rights as a service dog and their handler depending on the state. For example, in Tennessee, a tenant must provide documentation from a mental health professional as proof that they need the help of an ESA. The law doesn’t apply to those renting with other assistance dogs.
Note, that emotional support animals are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As such, they do not have the same public access rights that service dogs do.
Finding Your Service Dog-Friendly Housing
If you have a service dog, you’ll want to find the perfect place to call home for both of you, so finding housing that is accessible for you and provides peace of mind is key. Here are some aspects to think about when you’re browsing:
If possible, rent near an emergency veterinary clinic in case of an emergency, and a nice quiet park for regular walks. Of course, depending on the city you live in, this may not always be possible. You might have an easier time in places like Portland, OR, where there are many dog-friendly parks and trails. Of course, you need to make sure that the apartment fits your individual needs as well, such as stores, public transit, or other amenities that are important and accessible to you.
If possible, find apartments with doggie-sanctioned free spaces where they can use the bathroom or play when they’re off duty. Communities that have dedicated amenities will likely reduce a lot of the worries you might have about finding a great place.
Even though you aren’t legally obligated, you may want to tell your neighbors about your service dog, especially if they are trained to bark or make noise to help you or alert others in an emergency. This is information they should know, that is going to help you as well.
With such hard an important jobs, service dogs need all the same things that all doggos want and need: a cushy bed, belly rubs, treats, and lots of love. They also want a cozy place to be with you. We hope we’ve given you some helpful info to find the perfect apartment for your service dog to enjoy their downtime!
About Atlas Assistance Dogs
Atlas Assistance Dogs is a non-profit organization that fundamentally expands access to assistance dogs. We support people with disabilities to train and certify their own service dog using positive, ethical training methods. At Atlas, we believe anyone who would benefit from a qualified assistance dog should be able to have one.
We work with people with a wide range of disabilities who wish to train their own service dog and offer a comprehensive Academy for professional trainers wanting to become service dog trainers. For more information about Atlas’ Client Certification program or other training services, please visit www.atlasdog.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Become a supporter today and help us continue our work!