Fair housing laws at the state and federal levels include the use of service and support animals and it is illegal to discriminate against people who use them.
“It’s important to consider the service or support animal as an extension of the person,” Jinada Rochelle, acting housing coordinator of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), said. “Denying someone housing because they have a service or support animal is like denying housing to someone who uses a wheelchair.”
When someone applies to rent a property, property managers are allowed to ask if the animal is a service or support animal and what service do they perform, whether it is emotional or physical. They may ask for a doctor’s letter regarding the use, but in the case of a minor, a letter from the parent is sufficient.
Landlords or property managers are not allowed to require a pet deposit for service or support animals and no weight limit can be applied.
“The courts have been very liberal with service and support animals,” she said. “There cannot be any restriction on the type of animal used. We’ve found the courts in Pennsylvania to be very lenient and finding in favor of the tenant in almost all cases.”
Rochelle stresses that working with tenants to make reasonable accommodations is important in the process. “Engaging and interacting with the parties involved is important to determine how to make reasonable accommodations to everyone involved,” she said.
For example, if someone in the building has severe cat allergies and a new tenant moves into the building with a support cat, the property manager should work to see if there is a similar unit further away from the tenant with the cat allergies. If that’s not possible, then the landlord could consider adding air filters to the unit of the person with the allergies.
Owning a service or support animal does not give the tenant rights to have an animal that disrupts the environment throughout the night or causes harm or danger to others. “If a dog is aggressive toward other tenants, you are able to hold the owner accountable,” she said. “You are also able to search to determine if the animal has a previous history of being violent and consider that when renting to a service animal owner. But usually these animals are extremely well-trained and well-behaved.”