Assistance Animals

Assistance Animals: Your Rights and Responsibilities Under the Fair Housing Act

The Federal Fair Housing Act provides protection for individuals with disabilities who need assistance animals to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and the common areas where the dwelling is located.

What are assistance animals?

Assistance animals are animals that "assist, support or provide services to persons with disabilities."

For Fair Housing Act purposes, the term Assistance Animal includes:

  • Service Dogs and Service Horses
  • Emotional Support Animals
  • Therapy Animals
  • Companion Animals
  • Support Animals

Assistance Animals are not Pets!

An Assistance Animal is:

  • An extension of the person with the disability.
  • No different than any other prescriptive aid that a person with a disability may use (like a cane, walker, or an inhaler).

Tenant Rights

When a tenant is prescribed an assistance animal, the tenant has the right to request a reasonable accommodation to:

  • Waive a "No Pet" Policy to accommodate the need for the assistance animal.
  • Request a waiver of a "Pet Deposit" requirement.
  • Request an exemption from housing policies that restrict the size, weight and breeds of animals allowed on the premises.
  • Have more than one assistance animal if more than one is prescribed.
  • Provide written verification from any reliable third party who is familiar with the condition and need of the person requesting the assistance animal (not just a doctor).

A tenant may make a request for a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal at any time during the tenancy-including when an eviction proceeding is pending.

Tenant Responsibilities

When the landlord grants an accommodation for an assistance animal, the tenant has a duty to:

  • Follow all other terms and conditions of the lease-especially those that apply to the animal.
  • Control the animal at all times.
  • Clean up behind the animal-inside the unit and wherever the animal makes a mess.
  • Follow all laws and ordinances that pertain to owners of animals (such as leash laws).
  • Pay for any damage caused by the assistance animal in the dwelling unit or other common areas.
  • When required, to show the connection between the request for each assistance animal and the disability with which the animal provides assistance.

If you experience discrimination because of your Assistance Animal

A landlord discriminates when he refuses (without proper cause) to permit a person with a disability to have an Assistance Animal, upon request. If you have been treated differently in a housing-related transaction because of your Assistance Animal you can:

  • File a Housing Discrimination complaint with HUD or the Office of Civil Rights Enforcement.
  • File a lawsuit in federal or state court.

Landlord Limitations

When a person with a disability asks permission to have an assistance animal in the unit, the landlord may not:

  • Refuse to grant the request, unless granting the request would impose an undue burden or hardship, or fundamentally alter the nature and type of services provided.
  • Refuse to grant a request for an Assistance Animal because of the breed of the animal.
  • Deny a request for an Assistance Animal without offering a suitable alternative.
  • Require a person with a disability to provide specific health information to prove the need for the animal.
  • Require the person with the disability to complete a specific form in order to have the request considered.
  • Demand certification for the Assistance Animal.
  • Without proper cause, limit the number of Assistance Animals that a tenant may have.

The Fair Housing Project

West Tennessee Legal Services is available to provide information concerning a person's rights under the Federal Fair Housing Act. If you believe you are a victim of discrimination in housing, contact us at 800.372.8346 or 731.423.0616 for assistance. When necessary, staff can assist you in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or other appropriate administrative or judicial bodies.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against in a housing situation, please contact one of the offices listed below. A housing counselor will discuss the situation with you and help you to decide what to do next. Your response to us will be kept confidential.

"The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication: Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government."

For more information or to apply for assistance:

West Tennessee Legal Services

Toll Free: 1-800-372-8346 ext. 1250

Fax: 731-423-2600


To download a copy of this brochure, please click here.

Haz clic aqui para la traducción al español.