Companion animals are also known as emotional support or therapy animals. They are not necessarily guide, service or working dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service animals as those "trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability." Thus, additional rules and laws apply to such assistance animals. Unlike service animals, companion animals are not required to have any professional training. If you are disabled and have a pet that helps mitigate your symptoms, even emotional ones, the law may protect your ownership.
The term "companion animal" has been used to describe virtually every kind of pet, and myriad laws address its care and treatment. For purposes here, companion animal describes more than just a pet, no matter how companionable it may be. While not service animals either, these pets often improve the quality of life for people with physical or mental disabilities. This benefit is recognized by laws that protect companion animal ownership. Some protections are granted at the federal level and apply to California, as well as all other states. Other protections are specific to California.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act
In California, under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the opportunity to seek, obtain and hold housing free from disability-based discrimination is recognized as a civil right. Waiver of pet restriction rules -- such as those that prohibit pets, require pet deposits or restrict the size and weight of animals -- is considered a reasonable accommodation because companion animals are deemed to be more than mere pets. In California, however, a doctor's note verifying the need for the companion animal is required in order for this law to apply.
Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973
In addition to the rights provided by California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973 also protects qualified individuals from disability-based discrimination. The law requires that disabled people have an equal opportunity to participate in and have access to the benefits and services of federal programs, including access to federally-subsidized housing. Specifically, disabled people are entitled to equal use and enjoyment of these dwellings. As such, courts have held that the waiver of a "no pets" provision is one such reasonable accommodation.
Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988
Unlike Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973, the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 apply to both public and private housing. This law provides that people with disabilities have as equal a right to housing as those without disabilities. Landlords, therefore, cannot legally deny housing to a person with a physical or mental disability because of that disability. For this law to apply, a prospective tenant -- or tenant who is already established but has since been diagnosed with a disability -- needs to request a waiver of the landlord's "no pets" policy, explaining that she has a physical or mental disability that requires the support of a companion animal in order to minimize the effects of the disability.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights: Fact Sheet - Your Rights Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Fair Housing - It's Your Right
- California Department of Fair Employment and Housing: Fair Employment and Housing Act
- Regional Human Rights/Fair Housing Commission: Companion Animals and Housing Discrimination
- Disability Rights California: Psychiatric Service and Emotional Support Animals
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images