One of the most popular topics here at the Fair Housing Defense blog has to do with animals — and the difference between a pet and a service animal.  As such, I thought this might be a good time for a short refresher.  An assistance animal performs functions for an individual with a disability that help compensate for his or her disability.  Under our fair housing laws, the terms "assistance animal," "emotional support animal," and "service animal" have the same meaning. 
Generally, the criteria for a service animal is:  (a) the person must have a disability; (b) the animal must serve a function directly related to the person’s disability; and (c) the animal must be necessary to allow the person to use and enjoy the housing.
Most people are familiar with dogs used by individuals who are blind.  Similarly, signal dogs alert individuals with hearing impairments to sounds like smoke detector alarms and knocks at the door.  Additionally, cats, dogs and many other kinds of animals can provide emotional support to individuals with mental disabilities, alleviating anxiety, depression, stress and other symptoms that can interfere with an individual’s ability to live independently.  In a circumstance like this, it is necessary to demonstrate the relationship between an individual’s ability to function and the companionship of the animal.  For example, an assistance animal offering psychological support to a person with post-traumatic stress disorder is equivalent to a caregiver providing housekeeping services to a person with a condition that limits mobility.

A couple of other points:  A service animal does not require certification or any kind of special equipment or identification (although many suggest that a vest or other identification makes practical sense).  Assistance animals are not pets under fair housing law and therefore a housing provider’s pet rules do not apply (in other words — management cannot charge a pet fee for a service animal).  That being said, ian assistance animal causes damage to an apartment beyond regular wear and tear, the resident will have to cover the damage out of the standard security deposit charged to everyone.

If you have a service animal, I recommend you make a reasonable accommodation request to your management office.  While there is no requirement that the request be in writing, I believe it good practice to create a documented record.  The same advice goes to management when responding to reasonable accommodation requests — send it in writing and put a copy in the resident’s file.  Engaging in the interactive process works best for everyone and helps avoid needing to visit with a lawyer like me.

Just a thought.