What is a Companion Dog
Do companion dogs get the same treatment as service dogs do? Or is the claim of a companion dog just a sneaky way to try to get around a landlord's no pets policy?
A Companion Dog Is Not the Same As a Service Dog
Service dogs provide people with the assistance they need. Years of training sometimes goes into what these animals can do, from guiding people with vision impairments through a public space to helping them find the bedroom at night. Companion dogs, however, are simply recognized for their therapeutic benefits so that their owners can cope with issues like depression, PTSD, or high amounts of emotional stress.
Let's face it – a dog generally doesn't need any training to love its owner. For that reason, many landlords have refused to provide an exemption for the animal because it isn't seen as a reasonable accommodation. They're seen as a pet and nothing more. Is this the right view to have?
Impaired Tenants Have the Right To Request a Companion Dog
Even though a landlord might have a no pets policy, it has been declared by the Federal Government that a waiver of this policy qualifies as a reasonable accommodation and it is illegal under the law to refuse to make these accommodations to impaired tenants. For Fair Housing Act and HUD housing programs, the only thing a tenant must provide during the application process is a written accommodation request and a physician's confirmation of the disability that requires a companion dog.
There is one stipulation to this accommodation: for landlords that do have a no pets policy, there is a precedent set that requires a potential tenant to explore other alternatives besides a companion dog. Only if no other reasonable alternative exists does a landlord need to look at providing a waiver to their no pets policy. A housing program that might be disrupted or create safety problems for other residents may be a means of successfully arguing against a pet when an accommodation request is needed, but most of the time arguments against a waiver in court are shot down.
The simple fact in this is that most people who have emotional disturbances to such an extent that would qualify them for a disability are not likely to be qualifying to be renting. Many who do have other supportive family members or may not even need a rental at all! Anyone can request a waiver of a no pets policy, but this does not need to be granted if there is no disability documented or diagnosed.
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