ADA service animal

It is standard practice for landlords and housing providers to establish rules regarding tenants’ ability to have animals on their property. However, what happens when a potential tenant has a service or emotional support animal, and the landlord has a strict “no animals” policy? How can landlords confirm that these animals are more than just pets?

Federal ADA Definition of Disability vs. State Laws

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) distinguishes service animals and emotional support animals; however, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) does not recognize a difference between the two.
When determining which acts – federal or state – landlords and other housing providers must follow, the act that provides the broadest rights to the tenant should be adhered to. In this case, the PHRA is the act that landlords and housing providers should look to for guidance on the types of animals they must permit because the PHRA allows for a broader spectrum that includes emotional support animals as well as service animals.

Can Landlords Ask for Proof of a Service Dog or Animal Documentation?

When requesting proof that a dog is a service dog and not just a pet, housing providers cannot:

  • Inquire into the person’s medical disability,
  • Require medical documentation,
  • Require special ID card or training documentation for the dog, or
  • Ask that the dog to demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Under the ADA, housing providers are permitted to ask only two (2) questions inquiring into the status of an animal:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Avoiding Discrimination Claims – Defining Service Dog Discrimination

Under both the federal and PHRA Fair Housing Act, housing providers are prohibited from discriminating against a person needing a service animal when providing housing accommodations. Housing providers are required to permit, as a reasonable accommodation, the use of animals to “benefit persons with a disability or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability” even when the housing providers’ policies are “no animals” on the premises.

Landlord Protection: The Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act

The Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act (Act 118) defines an assistance animal as “an animal, other than a service animal, that qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act”, which “includes an emotional support animal when the animal qualifies as a reasonable accommodation.”
This law, which went into effect on December 24, 2018, is aimed at preventing residents living in apartment building communities from committing fraud in claiming that their pet is a service or assistance animal when in fact the residents do not have a disability, and keeping the animal would otherwise be a violation of their lease. Act 118 does impose criminal penalties on tenants who misrepresent themselves as disabled or that they have a disability and/or misrepresent that their animal as an assistance or service animal.
Act 118 permits landlords to request documentation that proves the animal’s owner has a disability or a disability-related need when the animal’s owner is requesting that the landlord make an exception to Landlord’s animal policies.
If landlords or housing providers permit animals in their housing units as a general policy, the limitation on the information requested remains to be the two initial questions presented above as permitted by the ADA.

Avoid Landlord Liability Concerning Service Animals

Additionally, Act 118 removes all liability on the landlord or association for injuries caused by an assistance or service animal on or within the landlord’s property. Specifically, Act 118 provides that the landlord will not be liable for any injury or property damage caused by an assistance or support animal that is allowed in or within the property, provided the animal qualifies for a reasonable accommodation under the applicable federal, state, or local laws.
The real estate attorneys at Maiello, Brungo & Maiello LLP is here to help answer any questions you may have as a landlord or housing provider when inquiring into service and emotional support animals. We are here to assist in preparing the appropriate forms that will comply with these laws. Give us a call at (412) 242.4400 to discuss your questions about landlord rights concerning service animals.

Lawrence J. Maiello
Lawrence J. Maiello

Lawrence Maiello leads MBM’s Real Estate Law practice, having specialized in the industry for over three decades. He possesses substantial experience with commercial, residential, and mixed‐use real estate developments. Maiello has been recognized as both a Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Best Lawyer in Real Estate Law.