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Knowledge is Power Series – Part 1: Housing

"Knowledge is Power Common Myths About Disability" is overlaying an image of a lit kerosene latern on a table next to an open book.

Contrary to popular belief, the ADA does not govern a residence (or the community the residence is in, as with an apartment). These spaces are governed by the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968.

~Ken Meeker

Knowledge is Power – Common Myths About Disability

Part 1 – Housing

A housing community consisting of contemporary townhouses.

You’ve just found an amazing apartment. It’s in a neighborhood close to restaurants, shops, public transportation, or something else appealing to you. The best part, the price is right. Excited, you go to the leasing office, everything seems great, and as you are about to leave you ask one last question, “What is the policy on animals?”

The office agent responds that they require a pet deposit, monthly pet rent, and a move out cleaning charge will apply. But what does that mean about your amazing emotional support alligator?

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is very clear on what qualifies as a “Service Animal.” Only a dog or a miniature horse, specifically trained for the individual with the disability can be a “service animal.” Many people believe that this is what governs animal policies within a residential setting. 

Contrary to popular belief, the ADA does not govern a residence (or the community the residence is in, as with an apartment). These spaces are governed by the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968. Under the FHA, “service animals” and “qualified Animals” are protected from having a landlord require a deposit, rent, and/or cleaning fee when renting to an individual with a disability.

Why does this matter?

Service dog giving assistance to a person with a disability using a wheelchair.

Many individuals living with disability, including me, have an animal that lives with us and serves a purpose beyond just being a “pet,” even though they are not a trained “service animal.” For example, my dog is important in managing clinical depression and anxiety. He also alerts me to anyone else being in the house or outside, which is important considering my low vision. My dog is a “qualified animal” under the FHA, but not a “service animal” under the ADA.

The following are all variations of “Qualified Animals:” 

  • Service Animal
  • Assistance Animal
  • Companion Animal
  • Therapy Animal
  • Therapeutic Animal
  • Comfort Animal
  • Emotional Support Animal
  • Any Animal for a Person With a Disability Need.

Another important aspect of the FHA rules regarding “Qualified Animals” is that there cannot be a restriction on the type, size, or breed of an assistance animal. However, if a particular animal is known to be dangerous, that animal can be denied. Assistance animals and their owners must follow any leash or sanitation rules, and follow local licensing and vaccination laws. You cannot be required to register the animal as a service animal. These registries are generally private, unregulated businesses and lack government authority to determine what is or isn’t a “service animal.”.

Tenants with “Qualified Animals” cannot be required to pay any special rent or deposit, but can be held responsible for any damage caused by the animal. There is also no limitation on the type of animal that can be a “Qualified Animal” under the FHA. This is an important difference from the ADA. It can be a comfort pig, an emotional support cat, or another type of animal that serves a specific function for the individual with a disability.

Some disabilities are invisible, this includes people with a mental health conditions, auto-immune conditions, and a multitude of other health conditions. While it might be obvious to a leasing agent why someone who is blind needs a service dog, it will be less obvious why someone suffering from chronic depression has an emotional support pig. So what does the FHA allow a landlord to ask for, if anything, when a disability is not obvious?

Disabilities & what a landlord can request

A landlord can only request the following when a disability is not obvious:

  • Verification the person meets the FHA definition of an individual with a disability. It does not have to state the specific condition. For example, “John Johnson has a disability that limits their vision.” It does not have to say John Johnson is blind or the specific type of condition. 
  • Shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation (Qualified Animals are accommodations under the FHA).

What counts as verification? It can be something as simple as a letter from a physician who is aware of your condition, someone at a social service agency (such as Vocational Rehab), or a case manager, sponsor, or another type of non-medical service provider that is aware of the disability. Essentially, it needs to be a reliable and responsible 3rd party in a position to know about the individuals disability. Housing providers may not request documentation that makes the accommodation requests cumbersome for the individual nor can they require medical records.

It’s worth noting that only individuals with a disability as defined by the ADA are covered under the FHA rules for “Qualified Animals.” The rules only apply to an individual’s residence and common areas within a community or complex. All other public spaces are governed by the ADA, which protects only “trained service animals” in public spaces. An emotional support rabbit is not covered by the ADA. 

Service and Qualified Animals do so much for people living will all types of disabilities. Knowing what is and is not protected under the ADA and FHA regarding the animals that are essential to us is important in preventing certain types of housing discrimination. For more information, contact your states FHA enforcement office, which you can find at: or 

By: Ken Meeker CPC

About The Author

A professional waist shot of Ken a white man with arms folded across his chest. He has short dark hair and eyeglasses.  
Ken Meeker

Ken Meeker CPC is the owner of Vitality Career Coaching LLC, a boutique leadership coaching company. His work includes creating inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible opportunities for employment through consulting and training workshops.

He is Inclusive Behaviors Inventory Certified, a Certified ADA Coordinator, graduate of the AFB Blind Leaders Program. Ken is a recognized leader for disability and blind/low vision advocacy as the recipient of the 2023 AFB Llura Gund Leadership Award. Additionally, Ken is enrolled in the 2023 NCDA Leadership Academy. He has been a featured speaker in numerous seminars, summits, a featured guest on multiple podcasts, and is the creator and host of the “Dissing My Ability’ Podcast. You can connect with him on or visit

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Image Descriptions:

  • The header “Knowledge Is Power Common Myths About Disability” text overlays an image of a lit kerosene lamp on a table with an open book.
  • A row of contemporary townhouses.
  • Service dog giving assistance to a disabled person using a wheelchair.
  • Author photo: A professional waist shot of Ken a white man with arms folded across his chest. He has short dark hair and eyeglasses.

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