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Assistance Animals and fair housing

Assistance Animals and Fair Housing 

Many people with disabilities benefit from the assistance and support of animals in their home. If a landlord, lease, or condominium association does not permit animals, a person with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation that allows them to have one or more assistance animals.  

A reasonable accommodation in housing is a change or exception to a policy or rule that allows a person with a disability to use or enjoy their home in the same way as everyone else.  

A large portion of fair housing discrimination complaints that the HRC receives each year relate to assistance animals. We have created this page to give the public more information about rights and responsibilities pertaining to assistance animals. 

What is an ‘assistance animal’ under fair housing laws? 

An assistance animal does work, performs tasks, assists, and/or provides therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities. Assistance animals are not pets. Under the Fair Housing Act, an assistance animal does not require certification as a service animal. An assistance animal can be any type of domesticated animal, and a person could possibly need more than one assistance animal, depending on their circumstances. 

Who can be granted an accommodation related to assistance animals? 

Assistance animals are for people with disabilities. Under the Fair Housing Act, a disability is when: 

  • a person’s body or mind have impairments that limit one or more major life activity such as walking, seeing, communicating, learning, etc.; 
  • a person has a history or record of such impairment; or 
  • a person is regarded as having such an impairment. 

The HRC follows ADA guidance about what is considered a disability and interprets the definition broadly in accordance with federal guidelines. 

What are landlords and other housing providers entitled to know about a request for an assistance animal? 

If the person requesting the accommodation has a noticeable disability and the reason for the assistance is obvious, there may not be any need for additional information about the request. However, if the disability is not visible, or if it is unclear what the connection between the disability and need for an assistance animal may be, then a landlord may request some additional information to verify the request. A landlord may ask: 

  • Whether the person has a disability under the law (meets the legal definition) and 
  • Whether the assistance animal is needed to address or ameliorate some aspect of the disability. 

A landlord should NOT ask what someone’s disability is. Also, a landlord should not require that a person requesting approval of an assistance animal show them their private medical records. 

What are acceptable reasons to deny a request for an assistance animal? 

An assistance animal can be denied if: 

  • The specific animal in question poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation; or 
  • The specific animal in question would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation. 

The requested assistance animal should not be denied based on mere speculation about the types of harm that the animal might cause or based on evidence about harm caused by other animals. 

If an assistance animal winds up damaging property, the animal’s owner may be responsible for costs of repairs. If it is the landlord’s general practice to assess tenants for damage repair, then a tenant may be charged for repairs due to damage beyond reasonable wear and tear that was caused by the assistance animal. 

What types of rules can a housing provider have about assistance animals? 

A landlord CANNOT: 

  • Charge a pet deposit for assistance animals 
  • Limit the breed or type of assistance animals 
  • Limit the size or weight of assistance animals 

A landlord MAY: 

  • Require a dog be licensed and vaccinated 
  • Require the animal be under the owner’s control 
  • Require the animal’s waste be picked up and properly disposed of. 


Where can I find out more information about assistance animals and fair housing laws? 

The Vermont HRC generally applies the guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Click here to go to HUD’s website about Assistance Animals:…;

Click here to read HUD’s Notice FHEO-2020-01 for housing providers: Assessing a Person’s Request to Have an Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Fair Housing Act (January 28, 2020):…;

Click here to see HUD’s Fact Sheet Regarding Notice FHEO-2020-01 (January 29, 2020):…;

Click here to read the Joint Statement of HUD and DOJ on Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act (May 17, 2004): 

Check out HUD’s new interactive tool for educating housing providers and others about reasonable accommodations for assistance animals:…;