A Landlord Cannot Force you to Declaw your Emotional Support Cat or Charge you a Cleaning Deposit for your Emotional Support Dog!


            For a person with depression and anxiety, an emotional support animal provides the impetus to wake up in the morning and go to school or work.  For Austin Cline, a student at Hillsborough Community College, Luna, his dog, gives him the ability to leave his parents house, go to college and then go to his job.   For years, Austin lived with chronic depression and anxiety.  He tried exercise, diet and medication, but was not doing well.  Austin researched and discussed an emotional support animal with his psychologist as part of his treatment, and she prescribed the emotional support animal for him.

            At Hillsborough Community College, Austin lives in a dormitory-style apartment that does not allow pets.  However, Austin did research on the internet and knew that he had rights under the Fair Housing Act to have an Emotional Support Animal as a modification of the no-pets rules to accommodate his disability.  The dorm-style apartment is managed by Peak Campus Management, and Peak Campus Management operates dozens of dormitory apartments with thousands of tenants across the country.


While Peak Campus Management allows emotional support and service animals, it promulgates rules and regulations for those animals which either surcharge an animal owner for having an animal, or it limits the animal users’ use and enjoyment of the premises. Under the Fair Housing Act, rules, policies, or practices must be modified to permit the use of an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation in housing when its use may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and the common areas of a dwelling. For all the rules, see Peak Service Animal Rules.

  1. A Landlord cannot preemptively charge cleaning fees, animal fees, or deodorizing fees merely because someone has an assistance animal

A Landlord may not require a tenant to pay a fee or a security deposit as a condition of allowing an assistance animal. However, if a tenant’s assistance animal causes damage to the tenant’s unit or the common areas of the apartment, the landlord may charge the tenant for the cost of repairing the damage or deduct it from the standard security deposit imposed on all tenants.

  1. A Landlord cannot demand that a cat be declawed!

It is cruel to require that all cats that are emotional support animals be declawed.  Declawing is a process in which is a process where a cat’s claw, the bone, nerve,austin-cats-claw joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated.  In human terms, it is similar to cutting off of a person’s finger at the last joint of each finger.  Again, if the cat damages furniture, the tenant would be responsible for the damage.  Having a rule which requires a person to mutilate their cat that he or she needs for depression would certainly dissuade a person with a disability from even moving into the facility.

  1. A Landlord cannot require a person with a disability to get the approval of other roommates or tenants.

The only defense to denying an assistance animal is whether the animal would pose a direct threat to others.  While some people may have allergies or other reasons that a person does not want to live with or near an animal, the remedy is to switch roommates, rather than having an accommodation dependent on another person’s desires.

  1. A Landlord cannot require that the dog must always be attended to by its owner.

A person that has an emotional support animal does not have their animal with them at all times.  Emotional support animals are not service animals and are not permitted in public accommodations, schools or other governmental facilities.  Rules that require than an animal cannot be left unattended on the premises, and even in their apartments and rooms unattended require the person with a disability to be isolated.

  1. A Landlord cannot require that a resident indemnify and hold the landlord harmless for all claims, including paying for the landlord’s fees and costs.

No matter how a surcharge is worded, cleaning fees, agreement to indemnify and hold harmless, releases, or any other way or method which dissuades a person from having an accommodation are prohibited.  For housing providers that allow pets, conditions and restrictions that housing providers apply to pets may not be applied to assistance animals.  For housing providers that do not allow pets, a housing provider cannot create new conditions and restrictions on persons who have assistance animals, other than the animal cannot be a direct threat to the health and safety of others and that they are responsible for the damages that their animals have caused.

  1. A landlord cannot limit the use and enjoyment of any portion of the premises with the dog, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other residents.

Under the Fair Housing Act, a person with a disability is entitled to an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and the common areas of a dwelling.  This includes the common areas of the apartment, going into friends units with the dog, or even having a person visit who has a dog or cat that is an assistance animal.  In as much as a landlord cannot prevent a person who is blind with a guide dog from visiting a person who lives in a no-pets building, a landlord cannot prevent a person with an assistance animal from visiting a tenant.

For more information, please see

Disability Independence Group, Inc.’s Assistance Animal Page

Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA | PDF This eight-page document provides guidance and answers questions about the ADA’s service animal provisions.

Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals PDF This publication provides guidance on the term “service animal” and the service animal provisions in the Department’s new regulations.

Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs” Department of Housing and Urban Development guidance on how the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intersect regarding the use of service or assistance animals by persons with disabilities.

Disability: The Market You’re Missing Part III


smart labrador retriever service animal using an ATMBy: Rachel Goldstein

For the last part of my series I am going to address how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to service animals and the responsibilities of businesses to allow service animals into their facilities. The ADA defines “service animal” as limited to a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability and the tasks must be directly related to the person’s disability. An important distinction from other federal law (such as the Fair Housing Act) is that the ADA defines service animals to include only dogs and the ADA does not consider emotional support, therapy, companion or comfort animals as service animals.

When it is obvious that the animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, such as when the dog is retrieving items out of reach for a person using a wheelchair, staff cannot question the person. However, when it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, businesses and their staff may ask only two specific questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

In either instance, staff is not allowed to ask about the nature of the person’s disability or require any documentation for the dog like proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, or require that the dog show what tasks it performs. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness and businesses are not allowed to require such identification for entry. Staff must also allow service animals to go anywhere in the business the public and other customers are allowed to go and cannot be restricted to ”pet friendly” areas or rooms.

Staff are not responsible for watching or caring for a service animal when in its business and do not have to walk, feed or groom the dog. It is the responsibility of the person with a disability or a handler to supervise, care for and control the dog. If the service animal is out of control and the handler does not or cannot control it, or if the dog is not housebroken, staff may then request the animal be removed from the business. Also, if allowing service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program (change the essential nature of your business), service animals may be excluded.

Again, as I have previously emphasized, comprehensive training is essential! Staff has to be aware of their obligations and what they can and cannot ask as they play such an important role in making sure individuals with disabilities are included in everyday activities and provided the same opportunities as individuals without disabilities.

The Department of Justice issued guidance on July 13, 2015 entitled Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA, which may provide further useful information for your business. For more information please visit http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

Have Dog – Will Travel


How to travel with your service or emotional support animal

For many, travelling without their service animals or Jack Russell Terrier sitting holding a stick with a bindle (also known as a hobo stick)emotional support animal is not an option. However, in many cases, the concern and fear of being denied access is enough to keep some from traveling with their animal.

Basic Facts:

  • There is no certification, registration, or official license for a service animal.   A service animal is a dog or a miniature horse that is individually trained to assist a person with a disability. Since there are many different types of disabilities and tasks that a service animal may do, there are no generally recognized license for a “service animal”.
  • An emotional support animal is not a service animal. An emotional support animal is any animal that lessens the effects of a psychological disability. Any mammal, reptile, fish, or bird can be an emotional support animal.
  • A dog that is specifically trained to do tasks for a person with a psychiatric disability is a service dog.
  • Service Animals are generally allowed in public accommodations or governmental facilities; however, public accommodations and governmental facilities are not required to permit emotional support animals admission into their facilities.
  • When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Two questions may be asked: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.
  • A business may not ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task
  • While there is no official standards for training of service animals, Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of not for profit assistance dog organizations, has developed suggested standards for the type of obedience and specialized training recommended for service animals.

The Goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act is “to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency” for individuals with disabilities. The right to travel with one’s service animal is critical to achieving these goals.

VICTORY for the Fischers and Sorenson the Dog


larry and deb fischer

On Thursday, March 13, 2014, Judge Robert Scola vindicated the Deborah Fischer’s right to use a service animal, Sorenson the Dog, in her home because of her obvious need of this trained animal.  See  Order – Omnibus DE 283.  In this case, her condominum association sued Mr. and Mrs. Fischer in Federal Court to force them to produce ALL of her medical records to even request the dog, and then to establish that the dog is necessary for Ms. Fischer to “survive.”    In vindicating Ms. Fischer’s right, Judge Scola stated:

So the Court realizes that there is some reason to be skeptical of requests to keep a dog as an accommodation for a disability in certain cases, particularly cases where the dog assists the disabled person by rendering emotional support. But this is not such a case. It is undisputed that Deborah has a bona fide physical disability that has severe physical symptoms. And her specially trained service dog does not assist her by providing emotional support: it assists her by helping her complete physical tasks that her physical disability makes difficult. That Counter Defendants turned to the courts to resolve what should have been an easy decision is a sad commentary on the litigious nature of our society. And it does a disservice to people like Deborah who actually are disabled and have a legitimate need for a service dog as an accommodation under the [Fair Housing Act].

Teacher with Multiple Sclerosis denied Service Dog in her own home.




Deborah Fisher lives with her husband Larry at Sabal Palm Condominiums in Broward County, Florida. Deb has lived at Sabal Palms for the past twelve years. She lives with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. Deb’s multiple sclerosis affects her ability to walk and her fine motor skills. It progressed from walking with a limp, then a walker, then a scooter, then a wheelchair and accessible van. She is now non-ambulatory and has been for about six years.

For Deb Fischer, the transformation from able-bodied to a person with a disability was difficult. Prior to the advancement of her MS, Deb was an art teacher in high school who was used to being self-reliant and in charge of her household. Now Deb is unable to work at a job she loved, and unable to hold a paintbrush. She depends on Larry to cook and clean and care for the home. In 2011, Deb and Larry found that they were chosen by Canine Companions for Independence to receive a highly trained service animal to assist Deb with her daily life activities.

On November 12, Deb and Larry brought Sorenson, the service animal to their home. Sorenson has been a blessing to the Fischers. According to Deb, “Sorenson has changed my life for the better, picking up everything I drop and cannot reach, opening heavy drawers and doors and pushing them closed, turning on switches and pushing buttons. He has taken some of the work and stress off my main caretaker, my husband. Sorenson is a perfect service animal, “invisible” in public situations. He only barks only on command, and stops when commanded “quiet”. We clean up after him on walks and he does not jump on anyone. He is never off leash outside our condo.”

Notwithstanding the obvious nature of Deb’s disability and the stated function of the service dog, her condo association would not approve her use of a service dog. For five months Deb tried her best to provide what asked for, but the condo association was not satisfied with the information she provided regarding the extent of her disability and need for the dog, and wanted copies of all of her medical records that detail her disability. Deb tried to educate her condominium and provide them information regarding the fair housing act, her rights as a person with a disability, and the level of training this animal received to serve her needs, but they maintained that she did not need the dog, since it was not necessary to “survive.”

Finally, on April 16, 2012, Sabal Palm Condominium Association filed a lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act against Deb and Larry Fischer, demanding that they get rid of Sorenson, and pay their attorney’s fees and costs. In fear of losing her service animal, Deb and Larry Fisher retained the lawyers of Disability Independence Group and Herb Milgrim to protect her rights and allow her to stay in her home with her chosen accommodation. The additional stress from this lawsuit and the fight to keep her dog has caused Deb’s condition to further deteriorate, but she could not even imagine life without Sorenson’s assistance.

We believe that the affirmative lawsuit by Sabal Palms Condominium Association was in retaliation for Ms. Fischer asserting her rights under the Fair Housing Act, and no better than using the law that is meant to protect persons with disabilities as a bludgeon against them. Deb and Larry filed a counterclaim against the condominium, its lawyer and president for violations of the Fair Housing Act and retaliation.

All persons who are substantially involved in a violation of the Fair Housing Act may be liable for compensatory and punitive damages, and such persons include members of the board of directors, property managers, or agents of the association. Deb and Larry would like to live in peace and to ensure that such acts do not re-occur in Sabal Palms, and that others are not put through the harassment that they have been forced to undergo.

“All cases are dependent on many factors that may or may not be present in all cases. As such, results may not be typical. You may not have as beneficial a result.”

The Mighty Equalizer – by Chris Stein

Chris Stein and Morgan the Dog

Chris Stein

Inside a body askew, I ambulate electronically atop four wheels. Alone, I often draw stares as something would from the extra- terrestrial. However, while He prances gleefully by my side, His inviting allure draws a smile from even the most stoic of faces. While as organic as I, He exudes a spirit almost God-like in nature that can be felt by all open to receive it.

Tangibly joined by chain, intangibly joined by all five senses and a sixth; together, we amble through life as one. Apart, we flail aloft as two naked appendages lopped at the soul. Whether about to embark on trundle or slog; I have Him at my side loyally awaiting my every move. With snout held high and ears flapping in the wind with super-hero air, He defies all who question His purpose.

As we end our day, He jumps on my bed and follows by a flick of the tongue on my cheek and bids me a sweet good-night. Curled at my feet, He falls asleep. I wake in the middle of the night to the sounds of His slumber as He dreams the simple dreams of His kind. With a soul as innocent as a three-year-old but as old as the earth itself, He simply laughs off the crazy complexities we add to life. Down there from His perspective, He just doesn’t care. He’s simply a dog. The mighty equalizer.