Not So Fast! Think Twice Before Denying An Assistance Animal Request Based On Breed

Landlords and property managers often wonder whether they can deny a resident’s fair housing accommodation request for an assistance animal because the animal is on a “restricted breeds” list.  The short answer is “no.”  Or, perhaps more accurately, “probably not.”

The federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq., requires that properties make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when those accommodations are necessary to afford people with disabilities the equal opportunity to use and enjoy an apartment community.  Consequently, a property with a “no pets” policy must make an exception to that policy and grant a reasonable accommodation request to allow an assistance animal at the property when: 1) the resident making the request has a disability within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act; and 2) the resident making the request has a disability-related need for the assistance animal.

But wait, you say!  What if a resident is requesting an emotional support pit bull, and my community has a restricted breeds policy that prohibits dangerous breeds, such as pit bulls?  May the request be denied as “unreasonable”?  Put simply, probably not.  HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency charged with enforcing the Fair Housing Act) has made clear that “[b]reed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal.”

But what about the threat that a dangerous breed, such as a pit bull, might pose?  According to HUD, any determination that an assistance animal poses a direct threat to the safety of the community (or would cause substantial physical damage to property) must be based on an individualized assessment of the specific animal at issue.  In other words, housing providers are not allowed to deny an assistance animal request simply because they believe that particular breeds—such as pit bulls—are dangerous.  Instead, the denial must be based on objective evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct.  Therefore, consider requiring a certification stating that the animal does not have any aggressive, dangerous, or vicious propensities.

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