When It is NOT a Pet

Web Admin - Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Property Management Blog

Ordinarily, property owners have the right to refuse animals while renting their property. However, specific circumstance exists when there is a dog, cat, or possibly another animal the law does not consider a “pet.” When a disabled person with an assistance animal applies to rent a property, a property owner cannot refuse to rent to the prospective tenant on the grounds of having an animal or “pet.” An assistance animal is definitely NOT a pet. This is law under Title II of the American Disabilities Act of 1990.

Definition of a service animal - a service animal is one individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. A service animal, such as a dog, can be any breed or size. It might wear specialized equipment such as a backpack, harness, special collar, or leash, but this is not a legal requirement. Service animals are not always limited to dogs.

Determining a true service animal - housing providers may ask an applicant or tenant to provide documentation from a qualified professional that the individual has a disability and requires a service animal as an accommodation. 

What you cannot ask - housing providers may NOT ask an applicant or tenant to provide: 

  • Any details about the applicant's/tenant's disability 
  • Medical records 
  • Proof of training (such as a training certificate) 

Forgo “no pets” policy - under Federal, State, and local Fair Housing laws, individuals with disabilities may ask their housing provider to make reasonable accommodations in the property to allow for their use of a companion/assistive animal and remove any “no pets” policy. 

Service Animal Training – generally, they train most service animals to assist the disabled person with individual needs relative to that person's disability. While some animals receive certification papers, others do not. It is legitimate for a person with a disability to train his/her own service animal. There is currently no national standard with which to evaluate the training or performance of any type of service animal, including guide dogs. You may not require the disabled tenant to provide proof of the service animal's training.

No additional Deposits - a service animal is not a pet and you cannot lawfully require any additional deposits. You also cannot retaliate by creating a higher deposit or higher rent than what you would require for other prospective applicants for the property.

Service Animal Damages – you can hold the tenant responsible for the actions of his/her animal for any damage to your property. Additionally, the tenant must comply with any of your established policies such as cleanliness and maintenance of the unit as well as leash requirements and noise guidelines. In most cases, assistance animals are usually well behaved.

Proper tenant screening - you cannot refuse to rent to a disabled tenant and their service animal, but as your property manager, but you can require them to process through the same application practices as other tenants. You do not have to accept an application with a poor rental record using your standard screening requirements.

Obviously, a service animal is a sensitive issue and as your property management company, we know the importance of following the law to avoid any legal issues. However, we will require them to meet our screening standards to protect your investment.

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