Service animals are a common subject of discrimination in MT housing / Public News Service

According to Pam Bean, executive director of Montana Fair Housinga private, non-profit organization that fights discrimination in housing.

Bean said accommodations in state housing are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act and Montana Human Rights Law, allowing both service and assistance animals. She said people with disabilities can request accommodations for disability-related needs.

“Any animal that a person with a disability needs is considered a service or support animal,” she said, “regardless of what the doctor or the household might call it.”

Bean noted that service animals help people with tasks, while service animals can help with things like emotional support. She said housing providers cannot charge fees for approved service or service animals, even if they normally charge a pet deposit, for example. Bean said she expects there will likely be a marked increase over the next month in the number of filings with state and federal agencies regarding the issue of service and assistance animals.

In most cases, Bean said, pet boarding requests are for people with permanent disabilities. Those who need short-term help may run into problems. Bean gave the example of a person who needs a service animal for a year, but lives in a place where animals are not allowed. She said people need to figure out how the lease is going to be handled and what will happen to the animal and its owner at the end of that period.

“Can we set up the lease in such a way that it doesn’t interfere with the scheduled expiration of this request? Because we don’t want to see the household getting slammed with a lease break fee or something like that,” she said.

Bean said housing providers have a right to know how a person’s disability affects their life, what it will be for a substantial period of time, and the animal’s role in helping that person. However, they do not have the right to know a person’s specific diagnosis. Sadly, she said many people look online and pay for a statement that their pet is an “emotional support animal”.

“Obviously a lot of them are fraudulent, so consumers are really wasting money going to these sites,” she said. “And housing providers are like, ‘Is this an acceptable form to verify disability?'”

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Jessica C. Bell