Frequently Asked Questions

Legal Hotline FAQ

A blog of the most frequently asked questions to the Maryland REALTORS Legal Hotline.

Cindy Sellers
Cindy Sellers
Cindy Sellers's Blog

An individual who has submitted an application for tenancy have a service dog or comfort animal?

There are three important points to consider when renting to an individual with a disability who requires a service animal.

(1) Service animals, therapy animals, emotional support animals or animal aides all fall into the same category under federal law.

(2) Service, therapy, emotional support or assistance animals are NOT pets and therefore may not be considered as such. Landlords who have strict no-pet policies may not enforce them with regards to service animal. The Landlord cannot charge a pet deposit.

(3) Assistance animals are covered under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehab Act.

Under the Fair Housing Act, persons with disabilities who are accompanied by a service animal are a protected class. To be an individual protected under the Fair Housing Act, that person must have a disability as defined by the act; the service animal must have a direct function related to the individual’s disability and the request to have the service animal must be reasonable.

The Fair Housing Act requires owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. A housing provider may not ordinarily inquire as to the nature and severity of an individual's disability. However, if an individual makes a request for a reasonable accommodation, a housing provider may request reliable disability-related information that (1) is necessary to verify that the person meets the Act’s definition of disability (i.e., has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities), (2) describes the needed accommodation, and (3) shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, information verifying that the person meets the Act's definition of disability can usually be provided by the individual. A doctor or other medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual's disability may also provide verification of a disability. In most cases, an individual's medical records or detailed information about the nature of a person's disability is not necessary for this inquiry.

Once a housing provider has established that a person meets the Act's definition of disability, the provider's request for documentation should seek only the information that is necessary to evaluate if the reasonable accommodation is needed because of a disability. As stated above, a housing provider may not ask for details or the nature of an individual’s disability. 

With regard to whether service animals must be specially trained or certified, the Fair Housing Act does not require that a service animal be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals. 

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