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Disability accommodations: service animals and federal law

Service animals are crucial aids for many disabled people. Dogs, in particular, are well known for their ability to assist people with disabilities in accomplishing daily tasks. In Southeast Michigan and across the nation, many disabled people rely on them regularly.

There is still a long way to go, however, in protecting people with disabilities who use service animals from discrimination by landlords and others who fail to accommodate them. Last week, a federal agency sought to make the law in this area better known.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development posted a notice to inform housing providers what federal law requires. Landlords and other providers must make reasonable accommodations for people who use service animals. And they must not prevent disabled people from getting or continuing in housing, merely because of the reliance on service animals.

These protections do not only come from the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is also involved.

The requirements of these two federal laws are not identical. The FHA, for example, has a more expansive definition of service animals. The ADA applies mainly to trained service dogs. But the FHA includes other types of services animals.

The bottom line of the two laws, though, is quite similar. Landlords, in particular, are on notice of a duty to make reasonable accommodations. They cannot flatly refuse to rent to a disabled person who uses a service dog, even if a building has pet restrictions.

Of course, federal law also contains other provisions intended to help disabled people. In particular, many people are eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Source: "Feds Affirm Right to Service Animals," Disability Scoop, Shaun Heasley, 4-30-13

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