July 2014 Article

Service Dogs, ADA and the Fair Housing Act

Service dogs and real estate
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. Whether it's a facility for real estate sales or for property management, real estate offices are public places, and must allow service dogs and their handlers access so as to enjoy the same rights as a consumer who is not disabled.
Additionally, the Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled renters requiring service dogs, and landlords may not turn service animal owners away because of a “no pets” policy.

A short history of service dogs
According to service dog trainer, Laurel Stone, the first recognized attempt at training dogs to assist blind persons began during the early 1900s in Germany. Dogs were later trained during World War I to assist the many U.S. soldiers who were blinded in combat (mainly by poison gas). Where guide dogs led, federal accessibility laws followed not far behind. During the following decades, most states also enacted accommodation or equal access laws.
In later years, the term “seeing-eye dog” gave way to “guide dog,” “signal dog,” and finally the all-encompassing “service” or “assistance animal.”  This change recognized that dogs were being trained not just to lead the blind, but to also signal sounds for the deaf, retrieve items for those who are physically handicapped, and even alert others when the dog’s owner has a seizure.  Today, the term “assistance animal” has further expanded to include those animals which, by their very nature, assist individuals with mental or emotional impairments. The Fair Housing Amendment Act does not limit the type of animal a person with emotional support needs may require.
How to know if it's a service dog
Although some service animals wear special harnesses or vests and some owners carry certifications, these things are not required. When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, if any, the office staff may ask only two questions:
  1. "Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?"
  2. "What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?"
Your office staff may NOT:
  • ask about the person’s disability
  • require medical documentation
  • require a special identification card
  • request training documentation for the dog
  • ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task 

There are also a few rules of etiquette when interacting with people who handle service dogs:
  • Approach the team in a calm manner when you greet them.
  • Speak to the person first.
  • Do not aim distracting or rude noises at the dog.
  • Do not distract the dog by talking to it or kneeling down to get its attention.
  • Do not touch the service dog without asking for, and receiving, permission.
  • Do not offer food to the service dog.
  • Do not ask personal questions about the handler's disability, or otherwise intrude on his or her privacy.
  • Don't be offended if the handler does not wish to chat about the service dog.
  • Be aware of others that may be in the room and be sure they understand the protocol.
  • Be aware of children that may be nearby who don't understand why they can't pet the "doggie."

A service dog’s individual training typically takes 18-24 months. Because of this advanced training, a service dog is considered medical equipment and is permitted to accompany its disabled owner to many places where pets are not permitted. Keep this in mind the next time someone with a service dog visits your open house, or a buyer tells you she needs to bring her service dog when you are showing her properties.

To better understand and serve disabled clients and tenants with service animals, see if our new 3-hour online CE course “Service Dogs, ADA and the Fair Housing Act” is offered in your state.

By Jim Luger, CDEI
Certified Distance Education Instructor
Continuing Ed Express

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