Companion animals also are called emotional support or therapy animals. They are not necessarily guide, service or working dogs; additional rules and laws apply to such assistance animals. Where the disabled are concerned, courts have thus far declined to restrict the types of species that qualify as companion animals. Examples include dogs, cats and even birds. Along those lines, courts also have held that 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 their 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.
The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973
Some companion animal laws apply only to federally subsidized housing. This is reflected in §504 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973, which 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; this includes access to federally subsidized housing. Disabled people are entitled to reasonable accommodations that enable them have equal use and enjoyment of these dwellings. Courts have decided that a waiver of a "no pets" provision is one such reasonable accommodation.
The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988
The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 applies 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 a 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.
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.
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