“Do you accept pets?” Four little words that instill fear in the hearts and minds of most landlords. Pets can cause damage to your rental property that most tenants would never be able to do on their own. We’re not talking about a fish. We’re talking about cats and dogs and in some cases…well, let’s just say some would argue that a pig can be a family pet.
When it comes to pets, landlords and tenants rarely see eye to eye. Tenants view pets as a beloved member of the family. Landlords see fur, claws, teeth, cleaning fees (“my carpets!”) and potentially costly repairs. As a landlord, you have the right to “just say no,” to pets. Yes, you might exclude potential renters, but you may also avoid potential pet related issues. It’s a black and white decision – case closed, right? Wrong!
What about assistance animals? Requests to have assistance animals are on the rise as more studies show the benefits of service animals to those with mental and physical disabilities and it’s important that you, the landlord, understand the local, state, and federal laws pertaining to assistance animals, many of which depend on what type of assistance animal a prospective tenant owns.
In general, there are three types of assistance animals – service, therapy, and emotional support.
Service Animal – an animal with special training to perform work or certain tasks for a single disabled person. You’ve probably seen many service animals assisting the blind.
Therapy Animal - an animal specially trained to provide comfort and affection to multiple people who have experienced some sort of trauma, stressful situation or who have learning disabilities. You’ll often see these types of animals in hospitals, helping to brighten the lives of those dealing with illness.
Emotional Support Animal – an animal that provides companionship and emotional support to its owner without needing specialized training.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service and emotional support animals are not considered pets and therefore are not subject to a pet policy. Think of it this way – service and emotional support animals are more of a medical device than an animal. Federal law requires landlords to allow reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. Therefore, landlords may not prohibit a service or emotional support animal from living with its owner. Furthermore, a landlord cannot charge the tenant an extra pet fee or security deposit. Additionally, landlords cannot apply other pet policy rules, such as restrictions on breed and size.
Since some states have additional laws in place, it’s important that you know what those laws are. Enter the professionals. A property manager or qualified attorney knows the ins and outs of “animal law” and can help ensure you avoid unintended consequences and penalties as a result.