Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed November 28, 2005
  1. Am I allowed to have a pet in family public housing?
  2. If I live in public housing and have a disability, can I have a pet?
  3. Am I allowed to have a pet in elderly and disabled public housing?
  4. If I have a pet for my disability, do I have to pay a pet deposit in public housing?
  5. What can I do if the housing authority denies my application for a pet?

Am I allowed to have a pet in family public housing?

The rules vary depending on whether you are in state or federal family public housing. Read your lease or occupancy agreement carefully. You should never get a pet without express written permission from the housing authority. If the housing authority finds out about an unauthorized pet, you may not be able to keep the pet and you could face eviction proceedings.

State public housing

Under state law, a "pet" is defined as a domesticated animal that is commonly kept as a household pet, such as a cat, dog, gerbil, or hamster. Other animals, such as monkeys and snakes, are generally not considered pets and are usually not allowed in public housing. You usually do not need permission, however, to keep caged birds which are not unreasonably noisy and fish in tanks.1 In state public housing, you must have permission from the housing authority to have a pet.2 Ask your housing authority what its pet policy is. Some housing authorities may allow certain pets or animals; others may not.

Federal public housing

If you live in federal public housing, you may own one or more "common household pets" if you maintain your pets responsibly.3

A "common household pet" is defined as a domesticated animal that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure, such as a dog, cat, bird, rodent (including a rabbit), fish, or turtle. This definition does not include reptiles, with the exception of turtles.4

The housing authority may put "reasonable" requirements on you if you have a pet. The requirements are listed in the housing authority’s pet policy, which is part of its administrative plan. You can get a copy of the administrative plan at the housing authority office.5 These requirements may include the following:

  • Charging you a non-refundable pet fee.
  • Charging you a refundable pet deposit (which must be placed in a separate account so that if the animal causes damage, the housing authority can use the money to pay for the damage when you move out).
  • Placing a limit on the number of animals in an apartment based on the apartment’s size.
  • Prohibiting animals that are classified as dangerous.
  • Prohibiting animals based on size or weight.
  • Requiring you to register your pet with the housing authority.
  • Requiring you to spay or neuter your pet.6


A housing authority may not require you to have your pet’s vocal cords removed.7

Pet policies for public housing are covered in a housing authority’s yearly plan, which residents can participate in developing through a Resident Advisory Board.

If I live in public housing and have a disability, can I have a pet?

State public housing

An animal that assists an individual with a disability is not considered a "pet." If you need an animal for a disability, you do not need permission to keep it in your apartment, as long as it is kept in a safe and sanitary manner.8 Even though you do not need to get permission, it is still a good idea to tell the housing authority you have an animal.

Federal public housing

Under federal rules, housing authorities cannot use their pet policies to prevent people with disabilities from having an animal that provides them with assistance. Such animals perform many types of functions, including:

  • guiding people who are blind or have low vision,
  • alerting people who are hearing impaired,
  • providing rescue assistance or minimal protection,
  • pulling a wheelchair,
  • fetching items,
  • alerting people to impending seizures, and
  • providing emotional support.9

A housing authority may require a person with a disability to show that there is a relationship between the person’s disability and her need for the animal.10

Am I allowed to have a pet in elderly and disabled public housing?

If you are a tenant in an elderly and disabled housing complex, you are permitted to have a "common household pet" in your apartment, and your housing authority may not discriminate against you for having a pet.11 The rules vary depending on whether you are in state or federal elderly and disabled housing.

State public housing

Each housing authority must develop a pet policy. This policy must be consistent with state law.12

If you are a tenant in a state elderly and disabled housing complex, you must get approval from the housing authority to have a pet in your apartment. Once you have approval, your housing authority may not discriminate against you for having a pet.13 There are some exceptions to the permission requirement. If you have a caged bird that is not unreasonably noisy or a fish in a tank, you do not need permission.

To get approval for a pet, you must fill out an application for pet ownership. If your application is approved, before you can get a pet, you must sign a pet addendum (or rider) to your lease and pay a refundable pet deposit with the housing authority. A lease addendum is a piece of paper that is added or attached to your lease which makes a change to your current lease.

Federal public housing

In federal elderly and disabled public housing, leases must allow tenants to keep "common household pets" in their apartments.14 Your housing authority may choose to establish pet rules that are designed to ensure a safe and sanitary living environment, protect the complex’s physical condition, or protect the housing authority’s financial interest in the building.15

The following are examples of rules the housing authority may establish:16

  • A restriction on the number of pets that may be allowed in each apartment
  • A restriction on the size, weight, and type of your pet
  • A requirement that you pay a refundable pet deposit and a "waste removal" charge
  • A requirement that you control a pet’s noise and odor
  • A requirement that you spay or neuter your pet
  • A limit on the length of time a pet may be left alone in a unit
  • A requirement that your pet be licensed

Your housing authority may not:

  • charge you for insurance liability to cover pet damage, or
  • require you to have your pet’s vocal cords removed.17

If your housing authority does establish pet rules, your lease must mention the rules and state that violation of the rules may be grounds for removal of the pet or termination of your tenancy. If your pet is a danger to the health or safety of other tenants in the community where your housing is located, the housing authority may require you to remove your pet.18

If your housing authority does not enact pet rules, your lease may not prohibit you from owning common household pets. Your ownership of the pet will still be subject to general housing authority rules and state or local laws governing animals in apartments.19

If you are disabled and you need your pet for your disability, the federal rules about pets do not apply to you.20 In other words, you may have a pet if it assists you with your disability. You will need to certify in writing that:

  • you are or a family member is disabled,
  • the animal has been trained to assist with the disability, and
  • the animal actually does assist with the disability.21


A housing authority must notify all tenants in writing during the development of pet rules and must give tenants adequate opportunity to review and comment on these rules before they are issued. The housing authority must send HUD’s regional office a copy of the final rule with a summary or copies of tenants’ comments.22

If I have a pet for my disability, do I have to pay a pet deposit in public housing?

In Massachusetts, pet fees are legal in public housing. Because your seeing eye dog or a hearing ear dog is not a pet in the traditional sense, but actually assists you in your daily life, you should ask that you not have to pay a pet deposit.23 This request would be considered a "reasonable accommodation."

A reasonable accommodation is a request that you make based on your disability that would allow you to more easily use your apartment.24 Although the law doesn’t clearly define what "reasonable accommodation" means, in general it requires landlords to make changes in rules, policies or practices so that a tenant may make full use of his or her home.25 Requests for a reasonable accommodation can come before moving in or after you have lived in the apartment for a period of time.

If you have an animal due to your disability, you should request that the housing authority make a reasonable accommodation to the rules about pets and to allow you to keep your animal and avoid the payment of a pet deposit. You may be required to prove that you need the animal due to your disability. You can do this by requesting a letter from your doctor stating why you need the animal.26

What can I do if the housing authority denies my application for a pet?

If the housing authority denies your pet application, it must notify you in writing of the reasons for the denial. You have the right to challenge or appeal the denial. If you live in federal public housing or state family public housing, follow your regular grievance procedures.

If you live in state elderly or disabled housing, you must appeal to the housing authority within 14 days after receiving the denial. The denial notification must state the deadline by which you must appeal and the documentation you are required to submit with the appeal. With the appeal request, you must submit the following documentation (or an explanation why the documentation is not reasonably available):1

  • A copy of the completed pet application
  • Your housing authority’s denial
  • A color photo and description of your pet
  • The name, address, and telephone number of a veterinarian and his or her statement of the current health, weight, and age of the pet
  • Veterinary certificates of spaying or neutering and of all inoculations and testing
  • A dog license, if your town requires such a license
  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of two responsible persons who can assume immediate responsibility for the care of the pet in an emergency
  • A statement that you are prepared to pay a pet deposit of $160 or one month’s rent whichever is less)


1760 C.M.R. § 6.03.

2760 C.M.R. §6.06(5)(j).

324 C.F.R. § 960.701-707(a)(1) and (2).

424 C.F.R. § 5.306(1).

524 C.F.R. § 960.707(a).

624 C.F.R. § 960.707(b)(1)-(6).

724 C.F.R. § 960.707(c).

8760 C.M.R. § 6.03.

9See Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook, 16.1.

1024 C.F.R. § 5.303(a)(1).

1124 C.F.R. § 5.309; 760 C.M.R. § 6.07.

12760 C.M.R. § 6.07(1).

13760 C.M.R. § 6.07.

1424 C.F.R. § 5.309.

1524 C.F.R. § 5.315(c)(1)(i).

1624 C.F.R. § 5.318.

1724 C.F.R. § 5.318.

1812 U.S.C. § 1701r-1(c).

1924 C.F.R. § 5.321(b).

2024 C.F.R. § 5.303(a).

2124 C.F.R. § 5.303(a)(1)(i-iii).

2224 C.F.R. §§ 5.312 and 5.380.

2324 C.F.R. § 5.303 ; 760 C.M.R. § 6.03

24 The federal Fair Housing Act requires "reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a handicapped person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling." 42 U.S.C. §3604(f)(3)(B) . See 24 C.F.R. §100.204 . The concept of "reasonable accommodations" was drawn from §504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794 (see 53 Fed. Reg. 45003, November 7, 1988), which prohibits discrimination against disabled people in federally assisted housing. State law, at M.G.L. c. 151B, §4(7A) , also includes the failure to make reasonable accommodations as an act of illegal discrimination. This means, as under the federal law, that a person with a disability has a right to expect her landlord to reasonably adjust rules or policies when necessary to allow her to live comfortably in her home.

2542 U.S.C. § 3604 (f)(3)(B) ; 29 U.S.C. § 794 ; 24 C.F.R. § 100.204 ; Southeastern Community College v. Davis , 442 U.S. 397 (1979) ; Alexander v. Choate , 469 U.S. 287 (1985) ; M.G.L. c. 151B § 4(7A) ; City Wide Assocs. v. Penfield , 409 Mass. 140, 564 N.E.2d 1003 (1991 Whittier Terrace Assocs. v. Hampshire , 26 Mass. App. Ct. 1020, 532 N.E.2d 712 (1989) ( rescript ).

26Jankowski Lee & Assocs. v. HUD, 91 F.3d 891 (7th Cir. 1996) .

27760 C.M.R. § 6.07(3).

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