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What is an “assistance animal” in housing?

By Jo Becker, Education/Outreach Specialist, Fair Housing Council of Oregon


The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of disability ¹.  Those with a disability have the right to request reasonable modifications (RMs; changes to the structure, such as a ramp) or reasonable accommodations (RAs; changes in rules or policies) when they are necessary to ensure equal opportunity and access.  This applies to, essentially, all housing 2.

A common RA request is for the use of an assistance animal. This article will address some things you should know about assistance animals in housing.


What is an assistance animal?

The definition of (and requirements of) an assistance animal under the FHA differs from the Americans with Disabilities Act.  For fair housing purposes, the terms “assistance animal,” “therapy animal,” “service animal,” “aid animal, “working animal,” and “companion animal” are interchangeable.


Assistance animals may perform certain functions and tasks for their person, but that’s not always the case. "Seeing eye dogs" are an example used by some with visual impairments. Many of us are familiar with this type of assistance animal, but there are other examples as well:

  • Alerting individuals with hearing impairments to sounds.
  • Pulling wheelchairs or picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.
  • Assisting those with mobility impairments with balance
  • Alerting in advance of an oncoming seizure
  • Providing emotional support for those with clinical depression, autism, PTSD, etc.

There are many, many more examples.


What it isn’t

An assistance animal is an animal of need, not an animal of choice; as such it is not legally a pet and should not be treated as one.  That means a “no-pets” policy must, often, be accommodated.  It addition, no animal-related fees, deposits, or rent may be charged.  That said, residents are responsible for their animals’ behavior and any damage it may cause.

If you or someone you know has a disability and needs assistance in housing, visit or call the Fair Housing Hotline at 800/424-3247 Ext. 2 for help preparing to make a request.  Given the individualistic nature of disabilities and what’s deemed “reasonable,” don’t hesitate to contact us if you feel a previous request has been unreasonably denied.


This article brought to you by the Fair Housing Council; a nonprofit serving the state of Oregon and SW Washington.  Much of the information provided here was taken from a Joint Statement by The Department of Justice ("DOJ") and the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") on Reasonable Accommodations Under the Fair Housing Act and from Source: U.S. Department of Justice publication:

ASSISTANCE Animals In Housing: 

Rights and Responsibilities


  • have the right to request an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation to a “no-pets” policy under the Fair Housing Act if you have a disability and the animal’s assistance is necessary because of your condition;
  • need to provide verification to your housing provider to support your request;
  • are responsible for the animal and its behavior


Your Housing Provider:

  • may not request or require that an assistance animal be trained or certified;
  • may not restrict animals by breed or species;
  • will expect that property is not damaged by the animal nor that others are not unreasonably inconvenienced by it;
  • may not charge fees, deposits, or rent related to an assistance animal regardless of whether or not pets are allowed on the property or there are such charges for pets;
  • may have rules for assistance animals as long as they’re no more restrictive than rules for pets



This article brought to you by the Fair Housing Council; a nonprofit serving the state of Oregon and SW Washington.  Learn more and / or sign up for our free, periodic newsletter at


Qs about your rights and responsibilities under fair housing laws?

Visit or call 1-800-424-3247 Ext. 2.


Interested in training sessions, workshops or speakers about fair housing laws?

Contact us at

¹  Federally protect classes under the FHA include:  race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (children) and disability.  OR law also protects marital status, source of income, sexual orientation / gender identity, and domestic violence survivors. Additional protected classes have been added by local jurisdictions.  Visit for more information.

²  landlords, sales agents, mortgage lenders, home insurance carriers, homeowners associations, homeless shelters, designated senior communities as well as long term care facilities such as retirement communities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, etc.

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