MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – Living out of her car now for four months, a Madison woman is having a hard time securing housing, and she believes the challenge has something to do with her service dog.
“This is this definitely discrimination,” Cheri Sloniker said. She has had her service dog for the last seven years. “He’s like my wheelchair, and I don’t think I could function if I didn’t have him.”
Sloniker has never had a difficult time finding housing until now, she says. Now she is getting more and more questions. Looking into hundreds of rentals across the state, the 74-year-old claims some landlords have rejected her application, while others have prevented her from applying.
“I’ve even had situations where, ‘Oh, did they tell you that we actually raised the rent?’ or, ‘Oh, we rented that place already,’” she said.
The common thread is that her service dog is with her for on-site visits, and the apartments have a no-pet policy. She is specifically looking for apartments that do not allow pets. “Other pets are not supposed to interfere with the service dog because he’s got to concentrate on me,” Sloniker explained.
But a service dog is “absolutely” not a pet, according to Rebecca Hoyt, the City of Madison’s disability rights and services specialist.
That’s why she says apartment pet policies do not apply to service animals.
Landlords, Hoyt said, “are not entitled to know what type of disability someone has or what tasks the animal performs for the benefit of the person with a disability. That is pretty private health information that landlords don’t have an entitlement to.”
What landlords can ask for are documents showing someone has a disability, in general, and needs a service animal. Documents can include a letter from a medical provider or another “qualified professional,” she said.
Hoyt pointed to both federal and state laws protecting those with service animals from getting housing denied. She added, Wisconsin law goes further to say, if there are apartment listings designed to even discourage someone with a service animal from renting, that would also count as discrimination and be illegal.
City officials encourage anyone facing barriers to access in Madison to contact the Disability Rights office. They can help resolve issues or file a complaint.
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