Dear Fair Housing Lady: Service Animals Exercising?

| May 18, 2012 | 7 Comments

Dear Fair Housing Lady,

Here at my community, we  have a resident with a disability who needs a service dog (I get it); the resident needs to have the service dog accompany her to the fitness center (I get it); the resident thinks that the service dog should be allowed to work out (I don’t get it).  This resident actually ties her service dog’s leash to the equipment and makes the dog trot for exercise!  So my question is “Do we have to let the dog work out on the treadmill?”  (Our community is in Las Vegas, and while what happens here is supposed to stay here, I have to ask!)

Sincerely, (I kid you not, DFHL, I did not make this up!)

Puzzled

Dear Puzzled,

Well, it is going to take me a while to get this mental vision out of my head; I am seeing that dog working out and I am seeing dogs playing poker.  There is certainly no dull moment in the world of property management, is there?

The short answer to your question is “no”.  The long answer (I always have a long answer – LOL) is that there is nothing in the FHA that speaks to a requirement to accommodate for the benefit of an animal.  We accommodate (reasonably) for the benefit of a person with a disability.  If this resident’s dog needs to be exercised (which for dogs is generally along the lines of a walk in the park or a game of fetch) then she can do that, or arrange for others to do that on her behalf.  So, if you have a neurotic dog that must howl all night because of its anxiety disorder, a traumatized cat that can’t bear to use the litter box, or a boa constrictor that can’t cope with staying in its apartment (ah, the stories, the stories), you can address those issues.  And you can tell this resident that she will have to keep her dog off of the exercise equipment

Let me tell you the 3 things that you can require of service animals (as long as you require these of pets as well):

1.    The animals will need to see a veterinarian at least once a year and their owners need to provide you with documentation that this has been done and that shots and other possible requirements are up to date.
2.    The animals must the housebroken.  (I used to say “toilet trained”, which is actually possible – my grandmother toilet trained all of her cats, although they did not know how to flush.)
3.    The animals must be spayed or neutered.

And while I have gone way beyond your question about an exercising dog, I also want to mention that you cannot require service animal cats to be declawed.  There… now I am done.

Category: Disability Accomodations

About Nadeen Green: Nadeen Green has been an attorney since 1979. She has taught Fair Housing law to the multi-family housing industry since the Fair Housing Amendments Act when into effect in 1989. She has been asked to speak numerous times for the National Apartment Association and the Multi-Housing World annual conventions. Her reader-friendly articles on Fair Housing appear regularly in industry publications. Nadeen is proud to be Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions, which offers print and online advertising products for all communities, whether through For Rent Magazine®, ForRent.com, Para Rentar, Senior Outlook, After 55, or specialized publications for condominiums and student housing. .

Comments (7)

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  1. Kathy says:

    Is an emotional support animal classified as the same as a service animal? The tenant has a prescription for the doctor for an ESA for severe, mental depression. What can I require or not require as a landlord?

    • Nadeen Green says:

      Hi, Kathy.
      Yes, an emotional support animal (what is also sometimes referred to as a companion animal) is a true service animal if it serves a purpose based on a disability. Think of it this way – there are two types of equally valid service animals. The first is the more traditional working animal (such as a guide dog for a person who is visually impaired, or a mobility assistive dog); the second is the ESA or companion/comfort animal. While the latter may not have had the training of the working animal it nonetheless is providing a service for a person with a disability. So you have a tenant who you know to have severe mental depression, which is a disability; and you have that tenant’s doctor prescribing an ESA. That is enough to require you to accommodate that tenant. If the tenant does not yet have the ESA and there are some possible reasonable restrictions that you would like to impose (perhaps the size of the animal), that is open to further discussion between you and the tenant. If you want the animal to be small, and the tenant needs the animal to be big, circle back around to with the doctor to see if the smaller animal will suffice as to the need of your tenant. Hope this helps!

  2. Max says:

    Fair Housing Lady,

    I’m curious where a provision for the service animal to be spayed or neutered would fall in line with the Fair Housing Act? I don’t see anything in the act that would allow a property owner to require physically modifying the animal.

    Sorry for the confusion!
    -Max

    • Nadeen Green says:

      Dear Max,

      Darn it, Max, you asked a question for which FHL does not have an answer in which she has full confidence. Nonetheless, let me tell you what I think (and this is my opinion only, as I am not aware of any cases on the matter). Even though as of January 1, 2013 the State of California has passed a law precluding a landlord from requiring any animal (pet or service animal) from being declawed or de-vocalized (“de-barked”), and this could be come a trend, I believe it is still acceptable for a landlord to require an animal (pet or service animal) to be neutered. My rationale is that veterinarians and animal rights folks are for the most part adamant that declawing and de-vocalization are cruel and unnecessary. On the other hand, those same veterinarians and animal rights folks strongly urge and encourage spaying and neutering. They believe that spaying and neutering have many benefits for the animal – better health, longer life, less unwanted offspring, and better integration into their human relationships (and for a service animal, less distraction from the task at hand, rather than the animal focusing on sexual urges). Every housing decision has risks (and not just fair housing ones). If I were a landlord, I believe that the risk is minimal regarding the requirement that animals be spayed or neutered to be at a community, and that the benefits of behavior resulting from spaying and neutering outweigh those risks.

      Sincerely, FHL

  3. Chris Schutzenhofer says:

    What can be done about management not enforcing the must have your dog on a leash rule or the pick up after your dog does it’s “business” rule. Our dog was injured by a dog that is never on a leash. We have complained repeatedly to the management and nothing ever comes from it.

  4. Sharon Bowen says:

    I have searched the web for information regarding mobile home living and service animals but have not been able to find much. Since January 1, 2013, I own and live in a mobile home community for adults 55 and over. However, I rent the lot my home sits on. There is an existing “no dogs allowed” policy for new residents but I have several health issues and believe a service animal would be beneficial to my well-being — as does my physician and mental health counselor. Would I be able to have a service animal under the ADA guidelines for Fair Housing?

    • Nadeen Green says:

      The fact that you reside in a mobile home (manufactured housing) community does not mean that the fair housing laws are not in place for your protection. The relevant law is the Fair Housing Act (not the ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – which provides accessibility for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the public environment). So while a policy that “no dogs allowed” is legal, the landlord or HOA that controls the lease of your lot (and thus your right to have your home there) does have a duty to reasonably accommodate your need to have a service animal. And your landlord/HOA does not get to know either what your disability may be or why you need a service animal. However, to be fair to the landlord/HOA (see how unbiased Fair Housing Lady strives to be), they do get to know that you really do have a disability (as defined by the FHA) and that what you are asking for is in fact needed BECAUSE of that disability. The interesting thing about your question is that you mention that your health care providers think a service animal will be of value to you, but you did not say whether your health care providers think that service animal needs to be a dog. If you health care providers think a cat, or a hamster, or guppies in a fish bowl will benefit you, then you do not get to choose a dog just because you want one. If your health care providers think that a DOG is necessary (in other words, an animal of need, not an animal of want), then your landlord/HOA will need to work through that with you. They can also impose some restrictions on dogs, such as breed, weight, puppy v. adult, etc., since you do not yet have such a service animal. Again, if your health care providers think that a 110 pound deaf albino St. Bernard missing a rear leg is what you NEED, then again, the landlord/HOA will need to work through that with you. Your landlord/HOA owes you as a matter of law an interactive dialogue on this issue, but you owe them reasonable input so that they know you have a specific need based on disability.

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