What is an Assistance Animal? 

An Assistance Animal is one that does work, performs tasks, provides assistance, and/or provides therapeutic emotional support with respect to the individual’s disability.

Assistance animals are usually separated into two groups:

Service AnimalsA service animal can only be a dog or, less commonly, a miniature horse. A service animal is trained to perform a task or series of tasks that aid their handler in managing a disability. These animals are trained for a specific purpose and provide a service to their owner all the timeService dogs must have excellent Public Access Manners, meaning that they maintain attention on their handler despite distractions, and will not be a nuisance in public spaces, and their presence in public spaces is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Emotional Support AnimalsAssistance animals that are not trained to perform a specific task are often called emotional support animals. An emotional support animal can be any species. While they sometimes have training or perform specific tasks, they are only required to provide assistance, and/or therapeutic emotional support in a way that alleviates symptoms of their handler’s disability. An ESA may provide relief from symptoms such as loneliness, inability to keep a daily schedule, or any other disability-related symptom. These animals are not guaranteed access to many public spaces that do welcome service animals, but they have the same housing protections as service animals under the Fair Housing Act.

What housing protections do these animals’ owners have? 

Persons with disabilities may request a “reasonable accommodation” for assistance animals under the Fair Housing Act. A typical reasonable accommodation is that the animal is allowed despite a no pets policy, and landlords are not allowed to impose breed or size restrictions or additional pet security deposits or rent increases. A landlord may ask for documentation from a reliable third party that establishes that the tenant has a disability and verifies the connection between the symptoms of the disability and the need for an assistance animal. 

Can my dog/cat/rabbit/etc. be an assistance animal? 

While many assistance animals that are not service dogs have additional training, it is not a requirement, and many animals can be considered to provide therapeutic emotional support that aids in the management of a disability without additional training. While service animals must be either dogs or miniature horses, there are no species restrictions placed on other types of assistance animals. 

What can I do if these protections are not respected? 

If you think your request for a reasonable accommodation was unfairly denied, or if your landlord’s process for verifying the validity of an accommodation request does not follow federal guidelines, contact an organization that specializes in housing discrimination like Fair Housing Partnership Inc. or the Fair Housing Law Center