PIQUA — The city of Piqua held a fair housing workshop Thursday evening to discuss the myths and truths in regard to having service or comfort animals within the home. The workshop was held as part of a requirement due to the city receiving Community Development Block Grant funding.
John Zimmerman, vice president of Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Inc., led the discussion, explaining to the attendees that landlords are required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Fair Housing Act to allow service or comfort animals at their rented properties.
“It doesn’t matter what you call it,” Zimmerman said, explaining that it could be a seeing-eye dog, a seeing-eye miniature horse, an emotional support animal, or a comfort animal. “Comfort animal or seeing-eye dog are both the same now under HUD regulations.”
Service or emotional support animals are not just limited to dogs, and they are not just limited to helping those with a physical disability. A service animal is generally a dog trained to perform tasks that benefit someone living with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
Comfort or emotional support animals are not necessarily trained to perform certain tasks, but they are there to provide soothing companionship. From dogs and cats to horses and pot-bellied pigs, a variety of emotional support animals are used to help people living with a disability or other health issue, e.g, a developmental disability like autism or a mental health disorder like depression or dementia. Emotional support animals have also been known to help elderly people who lack a certain amount of social interaction with other people.
There is a different process for allowing the various types of assistance animals. If a tenant has an obvious disability, such as bad eyesight or a physical impairment, the landlord does not have the right to ask for certification for a seeing-eye dog or assistance animal. However, if the tenant does not have an obvious disability and is asking to bring a comfort or emotional support animal into the home, the landlord has the right to ask for verification from a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or other medical professional.
Landlords also can ask about symptoms that the assistance animal may alleviate, but they cannot ask about specific medical conditions or ask to see a renter’s medical records.
“We should never ask about the nature of the disability or the severity of the disability,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman advised that landlords should do individual assessments when a tenant requests to have some type of assistance animal in the home. “Doing those individual assessments is always key to fair housing,” he said.
The landlords also cannot take an unreasonable amount of time to give a response to the tenant.
An attendee expressed a concern about liability for the assistance animals if they attack another person, as well as a concern about maintaining insurance for their properties. Zimmerman explained that if an assistance animal bites or attacks another person, the owner of the animal — and not the owner of the property — will be held accountable.
“Your tenant is the one who is liable,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman also explained that the tenant is responsible for taking care of the animal as well as fixing or paying for any damage the animal might do to the property.
Insurance companies also cannot discriminate. According to Zimmerman, they have to prove that the specific animal at the residence, and not its breed, is violent or is a liability in some way. These regulations also trump Home Owner’s Association or Condo Association rules, as Zimmerman explained that those groups are also required to make reasonable accommodations.
Zimmerman also noted that landlords cannot charge fees or special deposits for assistance animals, whether they be seeing-eye dogs or an emotional support animal. Zimmerman compared requiring fees for assistance animals to requiring fees for tenants with eyeglasses or canes.
“We wouldn’t charge for a wheelchair. We can’t charge for service animals,” Zimmerman said.
For more information, visit www.mvfairhousing.com.
Reach Sam Wildow at [email protected] or (937) 451-3336