In 2016, disability was the number one basis for housing discrimination complaints filed in Texas. Housing consumers have a right to ask providers to change certain housing policies, procedures and rules relating to their disability status. This is known as a request for a reasonable accommodation.
Having an emotional support animal is one of the most popular reasonable accommodation requests. Recently, a graduate student at Houston Baptist University requested to have his emotional support animal with him in his on-campus apartment and on campus to help him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. The student submitted paperwork from his therapist to support the request. Two days later the request was denied. After the denial, the student was charged with pet deposit fees. Emotional support animals are not pets. They provide individuals with the emotional support to help them cope. Pet fees cannot be charged for emotional support animals . When making a decision to grant permission for an emotional support animal, housing providers should consider the following questions:
- Does the tenant have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
- Does the tenant making the request have a disability-related need for an emotional support animal?
- Is there evidence the specific animal has caused a direct threat of harm to someone or substantial physical damage to someone’s property that could not be reduced or eliminated by another accommodation?
Just in time for graduation, college officials agreed to pay back the pet fees the student paid out of fear of not graduating and to have staff take part in a Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division reasonable accommodation webinar. For more information about fair housing rights and responsibilities and fair housing training, go to the webpage of the Civil Rights Division at www.texasworkforce.org/civilrights.