As a disabled person with a service dog searching for an apartment to rent, you can be bombarded with a lot of confusing laws and landlord rights. On one hand, the Fair Housing Act states that landlords must make reasonable accommodation for service animals. On the other, many landlords hold firm to their “no pets” policy.
Where does that leave you?
Somewhere in between with a harder time finding an apartment than the
rest of the population. To understand your rights to have a service
dog in your rental home and what qualifies as a service dog, keep
Reasons Service Dogs are Apartment-Friendly
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” This includes physical disabilities like blindness, deafness, or people in wheelchairs to name a few. It can also include people with emotional disabilities like those suffering from PTSD or severe anxiety. Service dogs are trained to specifically assist with their owner’s disability.
Because of this training, service dogs are extremely well behaved. When they are assisting their owner, they are on-duty. There are no disobeying instructions, acting rowdy, or being unpredictable. Here are some examples of the training service dogs graduate from:
Being able to lay down and stay with their owner for hours at a time
Not accepting food from anyone besides their owner, or stealing food when it’s left unattended
Being able to go to the bathroom on command
Always being able to heel, or walk alongside their owner
Proofing, which is training the dog to ignore all distractions, including other dogs playing around them
Task-training; learning the specific tasks their owner needs them to be able to do. For example, letting their blind owner know when it’s safe to cross the street.
The main concern landlords have when allowing pets into their building is the safety of other tenants, property destruction, and odor. Service dogs complete a minimum of 120 hours of training which can take 18-24 months to complete. After successful graduation, a service dog’s level of obedience is exceptional.
Also, after spending up to two years in training, they are no longer puppies when they start working. They have a stronger impulse control, as well as a stronger bladder control. Other tenants are not in danger of a service dog attacking because that’s simply not part of the job. The likelihood of a service dog destroying the property is extremely low. As for odor, that is the owner’s responsibility to ensure the dog is kept in good hygiene.
- Head tilting
- Paw raised
- Ears up
History of Service Dogs
The earliest recorded use of a service dog was in Paris, France in the 1750s. It was discovered early on that dogs could assist people suffering from blindness with their daily tasks, relieving the need to have other people assisting them.
In America, it’s hard to say when we adopted this role for dogs, but it would have been sometime in the 1800s. The first training school for service dogs opened in 1929 and was called “The Seeing Eye”, specifically training dogs to assist blind owners.
Besides assisting the blind, dogs were used in the military and on farms to chase away predators. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that people started using dogs to assist with disabilities besides blindness. Researchers showed that dogs were able to notify their owners when a baby cried, the phone rang, or sirens were nearby. Finally, in 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act officialized the use of dogs as service animals and organizations began training them specifically for the purpose of assisting their owners with a range of disabilities.
Science of a Service Dog
Dogs chosen to be of service to owners with disabilities have unique traits and characteristics. Biologically, each breed was created with a job or purpose in mind. The American Kennel Club states that most breeds fall into one of seven categories. Depending on the job, there are usually a couple breeds from each category that can make a great service dog.
In the Sporting Category, Labradors and Golden Retrievers often make excellent service dogs due to their work ethic and desire to please. In the Herding Category, collies and German Shepherds are known for their intense work ethic as well.
When choosing a dog to be of service, organizations look for dogs with low prey-drive and high biddability. Prey-drive refers to their primal instincts to hunt prey. Dogs with low prey-drive are more likely to be focused on their owner, and not a squirrel running up a tree. Biddability refers to their willingness to obey their owner and not need to be their own boss. For these reasons, a service dog that has been picked by an organization and trained will likely be extremely loyal, attentive, hard working.
Finding an Apartment When You Have a Service Dog
If you’re on the apartment hunt with your service dog, there are a few ways to make the search easier and landlords feel more comfortable.
Know your rights. If a landlord accepts your application until they realize you have a service dog, remind them of the ADA and the Fair Housing Act. They are required to reasonably accommodate service animals. They cannot charge a pet deposit fee or pet rent fee for service dogs.
Discuss the nature of your dog’s job and how they help you. Also, explain the extensive training and selection this dog has gone through to be the perfect service animal. You could even discuss the specific training in obedience, proofing, and the natural traits of the breed. Showing that your dog poses no threat to other tenants or the building’s hygiene will make your landlord feel more at ease.
Landlords can ask for written verification from your healthcare provider that you are, in fact, disabled (if it’s not obvious), and that you require a service animal. It may help to have those handy or let your health care provider know in advance that they may be asked for this. However, the landlord cannot ask for details or specifics about the disability.