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Fair Housing Defense Information on and Compliance with the FHA

Restricted Breeds and Service Animals: How Should Management Evaluate These Requests?

Posted in Disability

As aptly pointed out by Debra McGhee, the Director of the Baltimore Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) office, a related animal issue is how rules concerning restricted breeds for pets apply for service animals.   The most recent guidance from FHEO is that the office does not believe that restricted breed pet rules apply to assistance animals.  The logic here is the same as the reasoning that leads HUD to conclude that pet deposits don’t apply to assistance animals.  

According to Ms. McGhee, while HUD and DOJ have yet to issue a “Joint Statement” specifically addressing assistance animals in housing, we might look to the Preamble to HUD’s Final Rule, “Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons With Disabilities [24 C.F.R. Part 5]”, which was published in the Federal Register on October 27, 2008 [see pages 63835-63837] for additional guidance when confronted with a restricted breed rule.  Specifically, the Preamble guidance states that the Fair Housing Act’s “direct threat” analysis also applies to “reasonable accommodations” assessments of assistive animals: 

 “The determination of whether an assistance animal poses a direct threat must rely on an individualized assessment that is based on objective evidence about the specific animal in question, such as the animal’s current conduct or a recent history of overt acts.  The assessment must consider nature, duration, and severity of the risk of injury; the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and whether reasonable modifications of rules, policies, practices, procedures, or services will reduce the risk…..”

In practice, this means that management needs to carefully evaluate all service animal requests and not reflectively reject a request solely because the animal is on a restricted breed list.

Just A Thought.