Understanding Assistance Animals

Understanding Assistance Animals

In my capacity as an instructor, I have taught a class called “Is that Pony a Pet? Understanding Assistance Animals” for various boards around the State of New York, including the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors. This has been a very popular and confusing topic for many agents, and I have noticed a strange phenomenon occur in this class.

The class discusses reasonable accommodations for assistance animals. Assistance animals consist of service animals and emotional support animals. We define the different types of animals, the questions that housing providers can ask and those that they shouldn’t. An important point everyone should remember is that disability is a protected class. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation (such as a no-pet rule) that a person with a disability may need in order to have equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling.

The strange phenomenon I have observed is the response of some agents to the material. Often it appears that some agents are strategizing about how they can “get around this” and help their landlords (many agents are landlords themselves) avoid such accommodations for assistance animals. Would that agent want to deny someone who needs a wheelchair the ability to use their wheelchair?

Why do so many feel this way? Service animals that perform a task for a visible disability might seem easier to handle for some. When the physical disability isn’t visible, or the disability is a mental disability, the water seems murky, especially considering how mental illness is stigmatized in society. I have had many people share personal stories of family or friends who suffer from a debilitating disability that is invisible to outsiders, and how their lives have been enhanced and even saved by an assistance animal.

Fair Housing Laws and DEI are different. Fair Housing Laws, whether at the national, state, or local level, are clear about what is unacceptable behavior. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are about people’s feelings, experiences and participation. DEI strategies, such as learning more about others, being an ally, reconsidering stereotypes and thinking of the voices of those not present, can help.

Let’s take, for example, our veterans who put their lives on the line to protect us. There are lots of studies that document that veterans are vulnerable to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the numbers who suffer from PTSD are staggering. And PTSD can lead to a number of issues, including suicide. The Department of Defense Annual Suicide report, published in September 2021, cited that in calendar year 2020 alone, there were 580 service members who tragically died by suicide. Thankfully, there has been an increase in organizations whose goals include helping veterans and others cope with PTSD through the use of assistance animals.

With knowledge and open-mindedness, attitudes toward assistance animals can change. You may know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who has a disability that could benefit from an assistance animal. Possibly putting a face to the issue might help us understand how important this is. Someone’s life might actually depend on it.

Katheryn DeClerck is a member of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors DEI Steering Committee.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Real Estate In-Depth.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.