Reasonable Accommodation Policy

Chapter 15: Appendix: Boston Housing Authority Assistance and Service Animal Policy

1. General Statement of Policy

This policy sets forth the Boston Housing Authority’s (“BHA”) guidelines for how it reviews assistance and service animal-related requests from BHA Clients with disabilities. It also explains the rights of those making the requests.

These guidelines are not intended to be an exhaustive compilation of rules or policies governing BHA’s handling of such requests. If any conflicts exist or arise between this policy and guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), or existing or future statutes, regulations, or other legal requirements at the state, federal, or local level, BHA will adhere to the other requirements.

2.  Who does this policy apply to?

This policy references the following individuals (whether heads of households or their authorized household members) who may be in need of a service or assistance animal(s):

  • Applicants: Individuals who are applying/have already applied to one of BHA’s housing programs.

  • Voucher Holders: Individuals who are holding an unexpired voucher from a state or federal program administered by BHA’s Leased Housing Division (such as “Section 8” or “MRVP”). They become “Participants” (see below) upon execution of a Housing Assistance Payment (“HAP”) Contract.

  • Participants (or “Leased Housing Participants”): Individuals assisted under the federal or state voucher or non-voucher programs administered by BHA’s Leased Housing Division. Leased Housing programs include the “Section 8,” “Section 8 Mod Rehab,” “Section 8 PBV,” and “MRVP” programs.

  • Residents (or “Public Housing Residents”): Individuals lawfully residing at any of BHA’s public housing developments.

This policy will use the term “Client” when guidance applies to Applicants, Voucher Holders, Participants, and Residents alike.

2.1 How this policy applies to Leased Housing Participants

The BHA does not have the authority to decide whether or not a Leased Housing Participant’s private landlord must allow an animal on the premises as an assistance or service animal. It is up to the landlord to decide whether or not an animal is a service or assistance animal for such purposes.

The BHA will, however, decide whether or not a Participant’s animal is an assistance or service animal to determine if the Participant is eligible for animal-related medical deductions. See Section 8 for more information on such medical deductions.

3. Relationship to BHA’s Resident pet policies

Assistance and service animals are not considered “pets,” therefore, BHA’s Resident pet policies do not apply to the animals discussed below and BHA may not do the following with regard to them:

  1. Require “pet deposits.”  BHA does, however, retain the right to cover the costs of repairs for damage an animal causes to a dwelling unit or common area, reasonable wear and tear excepted.

  2. Reject them solely on the basis of breed, height, or weight.

  3. Prevent them from accompanying the Resident to any area of the facility where members of the public are normally allowed to go.

Note that while assistance and service animals are not considered pets, some Clients may keep pets for the reasons covered in this policy and not realize the animals may be covered by this policy. For example, a Client with a mental disability may have had a pet for years. The pet was not obtained to help alleviate the discomfort of the Client’s disability by providing emotional support, but now the animal provides that important benefit. In such situations, the Client’s animal could be covered by this policy even though the Client has only thought of his/her animal as a “pet.”

4. What is a “service animal”?

Service animals, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, are dogs  that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. They are not primarily intended to provide emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship, though they may provide these benefits as well.

5.  What is an “assistance animal”?

Assistance animals have a broader definition than service animals. Under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, assistance animals are animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. Examples of assistance they may provide include: guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting an individual to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with a disability that creates a need for such support.

Assistance animals are often dogs but may be other animals as well. An animal does not need to be trained to be an assistance animal, though some may receive training.

6.  Requests to have an animal counted as a service/assistance animal

A Resident should bring a request to have an animal counted as a service or assistance animal to his/her housing development’s manager, and a Participant should bring the request to his/her Leasing Officer. Applicants who are having their initial rent calculated should bring their request to the department screening them (either Occupancy or Leased Housing) to see if they are eligible for a medical deduction as described in Section 8 of this policy. Requests will be reviewed as follows:

6.1 Service animal review

BHA shall first determine if the animal is a service animal. To do so, it may ask:

  1. Is this a service animal that is required because of a disability?

  2. What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

BHA staff may not ask the above questions if this information is already known to the BHA or when it is readily apparent or has been observed that the animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Staff may not ask about the nature or extent of the individual’s disability.

For example, if a staff member has interacted with a Client who is always clearly being guided by a seeing-eye dog, he or she may not ask the Client the above questions as it is clear that the animal is required due to a disability and it is clear what work that the animal is doing. He or she may also not ask questions about the nature or extent of the Client’s vision impairment. The animal should be approved as a service animal.

6.1.1 BHA may not request supporting documentation for service animals 

BHA may not require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the animal, or ask for a demonstration of the animal’s ability to perform the work or task.

6.2 Assistance animal review

If the animal is not a service animal, BHA shall determine whether to allow the animal as an assistance animal. Requests for assistance animals are reviewed under BHA’s Reasonable Accommodation Policy as requests for a Reasonable Accommodation (“RA”). Note that as with other RA requests, supporting documentation may be requested by BHA in certain situations.

7. Residents: Denials of the ability to keep animals on the premises that otherwise meet the definition for assistance or service animals

BHA may not prohibit the keeping of an assistance or service animals unless:

  1. The animal is out of control and its handler does not take effective action to control it; or

  2. The animal is not housebroken; or

  3. The individual animal (as opposed to a general animal of its breed or size) poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others, that cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level by a reasonable modification to other policies, practices, and procedures; or

  4. Assistance animals only: Allowing the Resident to keep the animal would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on BHA.

8.  Medical deductions for service/assistance animals

Clients may be eligible for a medical expense deduction to their rent for the upkeep costs of BHA-approved assistance or service animals depending on the medical deduction rules for the program under which they are housed or will be housed. If eligible, they will be required to provide evidence of their expenses to the BHA, such as receipts from the food purchases for his/her assistance or service animal, in order to get the deduction.

Whether or not an expense is allowed will depend on the Client’s program or potential program. Please consult BHA’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy and Leased Housing Administrative Plan for Section 8 Programs for the specifics on when medical deductions are allowed for Public Housing Residents and Leased Housing Participants respectively.


19For information on options that may be available to a Participant when a landlord cannot accommodate him/her at the Participant’s current unit, please see Section 6.2 of the BHA Reasonable Accommodation Policy.

20The BHA’s ability to do so is found in the BHA’s Pet Policy and Rules for Family State and Federal Developments. The BHA does not collect pet deposits in elderly/disabled developments.

21Occasionally, miniature horses are used as service animals. In such cases, they are subject to an additional reasonable accommodation analysis using the factors found in 28 CFR § 35.136(i).

22They are also often referred to as “assistive,” “support,” “therapy,” or “companion” animals, and may have other titles as well.

23Note that while all service animals are assistance animals, not all assistance animals are service animals.

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