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Frequently Asked Questions of the Civil Rights Section


We’ve listed a few common questions we receive about various civil rights protections like animal assistants, property management issues, and more.  

As a landlord and property owner, do I have full authority to decide which tenants to rent to? 

Generally yes, but you cannot make a rental decision for a discriminatory reason. It is illegal to deny rent to someone because of their race, color, religion, sex, military status, familial status, ancestry, disability, or national origin. Deciding not to rent to someone because of one of these protected classes is breaking the law.

Can I limit my complex to senior citizens only? 

As a landlord, you must apply to the federal government to get a “senior housing” designation. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must determine whether the facility qualifies for the “housing for older persons exemption.” If granted, this exemption protects the landlord from claims of familial status discrimination. HUD must determine that 80 percent of the units have at least one occupant who is 55 or older, there must be age verification for residents, and the facility must publish and adhere to policies and procedures that demonstrate the intent to operate as 55 or older housing. 

If I see someone who I think is improperly parking in a handicap space, should I confront the person? 

No. If you think someone has a fake blue handicap placard, write down the person’s license plate number as well as the number on the handicap placard and call the police. 

If I see someone bringing a dog that doesn’t appear to be a service dog into a store, should I confront the person?

No. Remember: not all disabilities, physical or emotional, are visible. The person may be epileptic with a seizure alert dog, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, or a crime victim with severe anxiety and depression. 

As the owner of an establishment, if you believe someone is bringing in an animal that is a pet and not a service dog, the only questions you may ask are if the person is disabled and if the assistive device aids with the person’s disability. Only if you have a reasonable suspicion may you ask for additional verification. (For example, if yesterday the person wasn’t disabled and introduced you to their new pet Fido and you explained pets weren’t allowed in the store, but today the person is claiming Fido is an emotional support animal, you may have a reasonable suspicion.)

What good is a ‘no pets’ policy in my lease if someone has the right to have a dog anyway? 

Animal assistants aren’t pets, in the same way that wheelchairs aren’t furniture. A tenant does not have a right to have a pet, but a qualified disabled person does have a right to an animal assistant when a health care professional says that the person needs the animal to ameliorate the conditions of a disability. However, this does not mean that the animal is permitted to cause destruction to your property or be aggressive.