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 Feature Story
Assistance Animals Revisited -
ARecent Guidance & Recent Regulations
By David Levy, Programs Specialist, Fair Housing Council of Orange County
pril is Fair Housing Month, during of the FHA and not the ADA that are the applicable law. which we will mark the 53rd Also, as part of revisiting the topic of assistance animals anniversary of the passage of the and in order to have an appropriate understanding of federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). The terminology, it is good to present some definitions that law being over a half-century old appear either as part of California’s Fair Employment does not mean that its interpretation and Housing Act (FEHA) or the new regulations.
and application does not continue to
The FHA has been amended twice; once in 1974 and again in 1988. Later this year will come the 33rd anniversary of those 1988 amendments to the FHA that added provisions to ensure
equal, or at least improved,
access to housing for people with
disabilities. Just as with other
aspects of law, when it comes
to the FHA’s disability-specific
provisions, their interpretation
and application are not static.
Evidence of that fact is shown by
the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development’s
Office of Fair Housing and
Equal Opportunity’s (FHEO)
issuance of updated guidance on
assistance animals on January 28,
2020. That update came just 4
weeks after the introduction of
California’s first fair housing regulations, which can be found in Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR), starting at section 12005. That January 2020 introduction of regulations was the first phase of developing comprehensive regulations that will eventually address most aspects of fair housing law. Among the topics addressed in the first phase is that of assistance animals.
Because it has been five years since the April 2016 article on assistance animals appeared in this publication (available at April-2016), it is a good time to both cover these more recent developments and to review some of the general aspects of the topic. By way of a reminder, it’s important to point out that while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is perhaps a more widely-known law addressing rights for people with disabilities, when it comes to housing it is the disability-specific provisions
First, disability is defined in FEHA as a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more of a person’s major life activities. Major life activities are broadly construed and include numerous physical, mental, and social activities and working. Disability also includes a record
of having such an impairment or being regarded as having such an impairment. Overall, this is a somewhat broader definition than the federal one, which uses the words ‘substantially limits.’
Second, the new regulations define an assistance animal as including both service animals and support animals and makes clear that an assistance animal is not a pet. Rather, “[i]t is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, or provides emotional, cognitive, or similar support that
alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of an individual’s disability” [See 2 CCR §12005(d)]. The regulations go on define service animals as those that “are trained to perform specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities, including individuals with mental health disabilities. Service animals do not need to be professionally trained or certified but may be trained by the individual with a disability or another individual.” They describe some specific examples of service animals, and make clear that they include animals in training, whether being trained by individuals with disabilities, persons assisting individuals with disabilities, or authorized trainers.
They also define support animals as those “that provide emotional, cognitive, or other similar support to an individual with a disability. A support animal does not
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