Service dogs are well known for helping people with visual impairments get around — so much so that they've often been referred to as "seeing-eye dogs." But service dogs can also provide much needed assistance to people who have other types of disabilities.
For example, a South Dakota woman with a seizure disorder tried to rent an apartment for her family with two dogs that she claimed were needed to accommodate her disability. But nearly all the landlords she met quickly turned her away on account of her canine companions, according to a recent report from the Rapid City Journal.
It's not clear whether the woman, who has reportedly found temporary housing for her family through friends, will pursue a fair housing complaint against any of the landlords who refused to consider her rental application.
But regardless of what happens now, this story has already brought to light three important legal points that both landlords and renters alike should keep in mind:
- Service animals are exempt from no-pet policies. Nothing can stop a landlord from banning pets at an apartment building. But the Fair Housing Act (FHA), as well as several similar state laws (including South Dakota's) requires landlords to consider all accommodation requests from people who claim to need the accommodation for a disability, and grant requests when the underlying need is legitimate and the accommodation is reasonable.
- Service dogs aren't just for people with visual impairments. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, service dogs often provide help to people with disabilities other than ones affecting vision. In this case, the woman's dogs assist her by howling when she has a seizure, so as to alert people who are nearby and in a position to help.
- Tenants aren't limited to one service animal. Very often, tenants need only one service animal to accommodate their disability. But in some situations, only one service animal might not be enough. In this example, the woman claimed she needed two service dogs to help ensure that at least one of them is awake at any given time, since she could have a seizure at any time of day or night.