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Rules about Animals in Rental Housing

Renting or leasing a home
Written by Legal Aid WV


These are common questions. Legal Aid has a couple of articles on our web site to help tenants understand their rights. There are two sets of legal rules. One set applies to everyone who does not have a disability. The other set applies only to tenants who have a disability.

If you do NOT have a disability, then you must follow whatever “Pet Rules” the landlord put in your rental agreement. There is no law in West Virginia prohibiting pets or protecting pets in rental housing. It all depends on what’s in your agreement with the landlord. If there’s nothing in the agreement, then there are no Pet Rules. If there were no Pet Rules in the original agreement, the landlord cannot add new Pet Rules until the original agreement expires and is replaced with a new one. Like any other tenant, you will be responsible for any damage your pet causes. Click on “Pets In Rental Housing” for more information.

If you do have a disability, the federal Fair Housing Act will protect a tenant who needs an “Assistance Animal.” But be careful. Your “pet” is not an “Assistance Animal” just because you love her. Usually a pet does not meet legal requirements to be an “Assistance Animal.” To qualify as an “Assistance Animal” under the Fair Housing Act:

  1. You must have a disability; AND
  2. You must have a “disability-related need” for an assistance animal in order to “use and enjoy the dwelling;” AND
  3. the animal must either:
    1. work, perform assistance, or perform tasks or services for your benefit, or
    2. provide emotional support that alleviates an effect of your disability.

Click on “Assistance Animals in Rental Housing” for more information.

Finally, realize that this information about “Assistance Animals” applies only to housing. There are very different rules about animals in public places like restaurants and movie theaters. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects “Service Animals” in public places. But the definition of a “Service Animal” is much more limited than the definition of an “Assistance Animal.”

  • Only a dog can be a Service Animal. (Sorry, cats, birds, and hamsters cannot be a “Service Animal.”)
  • Only dogs that have been “individually trained” to perform work can be a Service Animal. (If your Fido is really wonderful for you, but has never had a formal training course as a Service Animal, he won’t be protected as a “Service Animal.”)
  • Finally, providing emotional support does not qualify a dog to be a Service Animal.

Remember, the Legal Aid articles we’ve highlighted address rental housing only. Those rules probably won’t help if you try to take your animal to a restaurant or a movie theater.

Learn more about this question, and many other parts of unemployment compensation, at Legal Aid’s web site.

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