civil rights advice

Dear Susie,

I am applying to live in a building with a no pets policy. On my doctor’s advice, I adopted a cat for emotional support when I was diagnosed with HIV. I can’t imagine living without my cat but I’m nervous about asking the landlord to waive their no pets policy. I’m worried that they’ll find out I have HIV and deny my rental application or harass me due to the stigma associated with the disease. Do I have to disclose my medical condition in order to ask that my animal be allowed to live with me?


C.A.T., Cohabitating Animal with Tenant


Dear C.A.T.,

People with disabilities, which includes individuals living with HIV, have the right to request reasonable accommodations in housing. A reasonable accommodation is a change, exemption, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service so that a person with a disability can have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home. Asking your landlord to waive their no pet policy so that your emotional support animal can live with you would be considered a reasonable accommodation request.

In order to request a reasonable accommodation, you only need to submit documentation that verifies you have a disability and explains the relationship between your disability and the reasonable accommodation. If your disability is obvious, you would not need to submit documentation verifying your disability, you can self-certify. The same is true for the relationship between your disability and the reasonable accommodation—you wouldn’t need to submit documentation if the relationship is obvious. But not all disabilities are obvious, and just because a disability isn’t obvious doesn’t mean you don’t have disability related protections under the Fair Housing Act.

As neither your disability nor your disability-related need for your emotional support animal is obvious, you would need to submit documentation verifying both. This documentation could be a letter from your doctor, therapist, or caseworker. It would state that you have a disability and that your emotional support animal helps you with certain symptoms of your disability. While your letter must specify at least one symptom that is improved by the presence of your animal, the letter does not need to ever state your underlying medical condition. Hopefully that should help relieve some of your worry about submitting the reasonable accommodation request.

It is illegal for a housing provider refuse to rent to someone, harass them, or retaliate against them due to a protected identity. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate against someone in housing based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status (the presence of children in the household under the age of 18). Many states, counties, and cities have additional protected classes. As disability is a protected class, it would be illegal for a landlord to deny your rental application because you disclosed that you have a disability or because you requested a reasonable accommodation. It would also be illegal for them to harass you due to your disability.

If your landlord denies your request, ignores it, or otherwise discriminates against you, you can contact the ERC to report your experiences by calling 202-234-3062 or by filling out a short form online. Once we conduct an intake with you, we may be able to advocate on your behalf or assist you with filing a fair housing complaint. Please note we are not able to offer legal advice. For legal advice, you should contact an attorney.


The Equal Rights Center

Have a question about housing discrimination in the Washington DC metro? Want to a report a potential instance of housing discrimination? Contact Susie by calling 202-234-3062.

There are many things to consider when finding a home. Discrimination isn’t one of them.

In 2017, The ERC launched its Fair Housing Advice Column! The Equal Rights Center is the only fair housing organization in Greater Washington, DC providing direct services to individuals that believe they may have experienced housing discrimination. We know that many residents of Greater Washington, DC have questions about possible housing discrimination as they search for and reside in their homes. We are here to educate residents on their fair housing rights and advocate on their behalf.

We want to hear from you! Please reach out to us with your questions, scenarios and inquiries. We will be publishing some of your entries (anonymously) with responses from our expert fair housing staff.

For immediate information on discrimination and protected classes in the Greater Washington area, please visit our Fair Housing Page. Additionally, if you feel you have experienced or witnessed housing discrimination and would like to report it, please submit a lead here.

Leave a Comment

ERC Logo

Start typing and press Enter to search