RCW 49.60 states that a service animal has to be trained to provide a specific service to a person with a disability.
The Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) does not define a service animal, but considers it to be a reasonable accommodation.
The Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC) has a contract whereby the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pays the agency to investigate housing cases.
In 2008, HUD sent the WSHRC a mandate requiring that all service animal cases received by the WSHRC involving housing be referred to HUD for investigation. And secondly that HUD would no longer be referring housing cases involving service animal issues to the WSHRC. This is because of the strict requirement in the law that service animals be trained. This dichotomy in the state and federal law can cause problems for landlords who in good faith believe they are following the law but later find that they may be in violation of the FHA.
The WSHRC is proposing legislation to remove the definition of service animal from the real estate section of the RCW so that it matches federal law which is being used by HUD in investigating state cases.
The WSHRC lost $122,200.00 in fiscal year 2012, of needed revenue by not having authorization to investigate these cases on its own behalf and on behalf of HUD.
Example: Mrs. Smith is 80 years old and is clinically depressed. Her doctor recommends she get a pet to help her with the depression. She chooses to get a cat because it is easier to deal with in an apartment. Under RCW 49.60 Mrs. Smith’s cat would not be considered a service animal even though it is therapeutic for her. The landlord doesn’t permit the animal under the interpretation of state law and ends up with a discrimination complaint filed with HUD.
Example: Joe is a veteran who has PTSD after several tours in Iraq. His therapist recommends he get a companion dog for therapeutic reasons. Joe’s landlord denies him the dog because it is not trained to provide a service as required by RCW 49.60. Joe files a complaint with HUD for failure to accommodate a disability and the landlord is held responsible for violating federal law.
We believe that changing the law will end the confusion and help Washington housing providers.
We need your support in order to see this legislation through. It is a benefit to landlords and the citizens of the state of Washington to have consistency in the state and federal laws and to generate the revenue that is so badly needed. The WSHRC is a neutral civil rights enforcement agency with the police power of the state. We offer free technical assistance and training to businesses and housing providers regarding the laws against discrimination and how to stay in compliance.
Visit our website www.hum.wa.gov for updates
Or contact Sharon Ortiz, Director, WSHRC @ 360-753-2558 for questions