ERC Uncovers Discrimination Against People with Assistance Animals by Virginia Landlord
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing nationwide on the basis of disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and familial status. Under the law, people with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodations in housing that afford them equal use and enjoyment of their homes. One common type of reasonable accommodation is for people with disabilities to be allowed assistance animals in their home.
“Assistance animals” are animals that assist people with disabilities, either through their presence or through tasks they are trained to do. Service animals and emotional support animals are both considered to be assistance animals. Service animals are trained to perform one or more tasks to assist people with disabilities, such as a guide dog assisting a blind person navigating their surroundings. Emotional support animals are not specially trained, but their presence improves disability-related symptoms for people with disabilities. For example, an emotional support cat may improve a person’s symptoms from depression or another mental health disability.
Through a testing investigation, the ERC has been made aware of a likely discriminatory practice by a property management company in Northern Virginia. In one test, a leasing agent for the company hung up on a tester after the tester asked whether her assistance animal would be allowed to reside with her. In another test, an employee told a tester that she would need to pay additional pet rent each month if her assistance animal resided with her.
Refusing to allow assistance animals as a reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities in housing is illegal under the Fair Housing Act. It is also illegal to charge a tenant a fee for a reasonable accommodation request, such as charging a tenant a pet deposit or pet rent if they have an assistance animal.
If you need assistance making a reasonable accommodation request to your housing provider, you can contact the Equal Rights Center. You can also contact us if you believe you may have experienced housing discrimination related to your disability or assistance animal. We may be able to assist you with filing a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the appropriate state or local agency.
In Virginia, housing discrimination complaints can be filed with the Virginia Fair Housing Office (VFHO), except in Fairfax County, where complaints should be directed to the Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs (link below). To learn more about the VFHO complaint process, please check out the “File a Complaint” section on their website.
You can download a housing discrimination complaint form from the Virginia Fair Housing Office in English or Spanish. The form can be submitted to VFHO via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail to the following address:
Commonwealth of Virginia
Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation
Attn: Fair Housing Office
9960 Mayland Drive, Suite 400
Richmond, Virginia 23233-1485
Here’s a list of state and local government agencies in the ERC’s services area where you can file housing discrimination complaints:
District of Columbia
- Fairfax County, VA: Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs
- All other counties in Virginia: Virginia Fair Housing Office (see above for more details of how to file a complaint)
West Virginia (the ERC only serves Jefferson County at this time)
If you live in another part of the country, you can consult HUD’s guide to find your state or local agency where you can report housing discrimination.
In some instances, you may want to file your housing discrimination complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development instead of a state or local agency. Here are some reasons you may want to file a housing discrimination complaint with HUD:
- There is no state or local agency that investigates housing discrimination in the jurisdiction where the alleged discrimination occurred;
- Your housing discrimination complaint involves allegations of disability-based discrimination under the Americans with Disability Act and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; or
- The housing provider that allegedly discriminated against you receives federal funding, such as a Housing Authority or state or local government program.
If you believe you may have experienced discrimination in housing, you can contact the Equal Rights Center. To report your experience, please call 202-234-3062 or email email@example.com.