This week, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) released a report detailing the treatment of blind or visually impaired renters seeking a reasonable accommodation for a service animal in the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area rental housing market. “Misguided: Housing Discrimination Against Individuals Using Guide Dogs” found that housing providers failed to individuals who used service animals equal housing opportunity thirty-one percent of the time, despite federal, state and local protections requiring such accommodations.
Guide dogs and other assistive animals serve an important function and are not pets. Nonetheless, many rental properties employ a “no pets” policy or have strict guidelines, including the type of animal allowed and size of the animal. Recognizing the adverse effect these policies may have, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as state and local laws, provide protections to people with disabilities in housing-related transactions, including the right to obtain a reasonable accommodation for the use of a service animal.
Despite these protections, the ERC and its affiliates continue to receive reports of discrimination. To test these claims, the ERC conducted 100 tests of rental properties throughout the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area [for further information on testing and methodology, read the full report here]. In 31 percent of the tests, a blind individual who called a rental property to inquire about housing was unable to ensure that a guide dog would be permitted without any additional fee or cost. The treatment ranged from increased fees, to a lack of knowledge on property policies involving service animals, to outright refusals to accommodate a guide dog.
Service and other assistive provide essential services to many in the disability community. From a blind individual who uses a guide dog to walk down the street, to a person diagnosed with epilepsy who works with a dog trained to detect seizures, assistive animals are invaluable resources and companions.
When housing providers refuse to provide accommodations for individuals who use assistive animals, they create barriers for prospective renters. This not only negatively impacts renters in their pursuit of housing, but is also bad business for housing providers, who are turning away potential renters with their discriminatory practices. To address this problem, the ERC makes the following recommendations:
- Housing providers must require training for their staff and leasing agents in offering equal service to all prospective tenants;
- Housing providers must establish clear written policies regarding reasonable accommodations that comply with federal, state and local laws;
- Individuals with disabilities should afford themselves of opportunities to attend “Know Your Rights” presentations regarding their rights under federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws;
- When faced with discriminatory conduct, persons with disabilities should be prepared to advocate for their rights, and where necessary, contact the Equal Right Center, or file a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or their local civil rights or human rights agency.
With this report, the ERC hopes to further raise awareness about the problem of discriminatory practices in the rental housing market and how to promote equal housing opportunity.
The ERC would like to thank the American Council of the Blind for its collaboration and support in the publication of this report.
Want to learn more about service animals? Check out our previous blogs or read the ERC’s 2010 report on taxicab discrimination against individuals who use guide dogs.