Property Management, Tenant Selection, Real Estate News & Tips

Ultimate Guide for Landlords and Service Animals

By on April 29, 2016 in Education with 8 Comments

landlords and service animalsRental property owners are entitled to create their own pet policies, but what happens when a tenant comes to you requesting that you change your policy to accommodate their service animal?  

Unfortunately there seems to be a lot of ambiguity regarding a landlord’s responsibility for accommodating service animals on their rental property.  In order to stay on top of this situation, landlords and property managers need to get educated on federal, state ,and local laws.

Rather than face claims of discriminatory behavior, you will benefit from learning about the different types of assistance animals and what conditions make it possible for a tenant to require you rent to him and his animal.

Simply put, you have to allow service animals in your rental property if the tenant or applicant qualifies for reasonable accommodation and if they have a verifiable need for an assistance animal.

Here are the basic guidelines for landlords and property managers, as outlined by the The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in regards to service animals at rental properties.

  • Service animals are not considered pets, therefore a housing providers “pet policy” does not apply to service animals.
  • Service animals are allowed wherever a person may go, including restricted animal areas like food establishments
  • Landlords cannot collect a pet deposit or charge a pet fee to persons with a service animal (since they are not technically considered pets)
  • Landlords cannot enforce weight limits or breed restrictions for service animals
  • Landlords can require written verification from the tenant’s health care provider that they are disabled but cannot ask for any specifics about the disability
  • Landlords can require written verification from the tenant’s health care provider that the service animal is medically necessary
  • Landlords can write warnings or even evict a tenant with an assistance animal is disturbing others, posing a threat to others or causing considerable damage to the property.
  • Landlords can charge a tenant for any property damage an assistance animals causes on the property.
  • Landlords can request copies of the animal’s health records to prove the animal is in good health, parasite free and immunized/vaccinated.

Tenant requests for assistance animals are legally enforceable if the renter qualifies for reasonable accommodation.  

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provide further clarification on service animals and assistance animals to help housing providers understand their responsibility when it comes to reasonable accommodation.

Legal Protections for Tenants with Assistance Animals

If a housing provider prohibits pets on the property, a tenant may request reasonable accommodations in order for an assistance animal to live there.  Reasonable accommodation is when a tenant asks a landlord to change an existing rule or policy to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the unit and property.

According to the Fair Housing Act(FHA) and the American Disabilities Ac (ADA)t, a tenant may qualify for reasonable accommodations for disabilities if the following conditions are met:

  1. Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, seeing, working, cleaning, dressing, and so forth)
  2. Have a history of such impairments
  3. Be regarded as having such impairments

The situation is complicated by the fact that a landlord is limited by the amount of information he can ask an applicant or tenant about any disabilities.  Numerous laws have been enacted to protect the privacy of individuals with disabilities and to ensure they receive fair housing opportunities.

Lawmakers have created further protections of individuals with disabilities by clarifying that people with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations for any assistance animals, including emotional support animals.

HUD gives further guidance to housing providers about how to go about determining the validity of reasonable accommodation for assistance animals.  You can find a complete version of these rules here.

Types of Assistance Animals

Landlords may find themselves in situations where they need to provide reasonable accommodation for assistance animals.  Typically, you will find yourself dealing with 2 types of assistance animals – service animals and companion animals.

Service Animals

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a true service animal is a dog trained to provide assistance to the owner who has a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

The ADA gives the following examples of a service animal:

  1. A person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar is low.
  2. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication.
  3. A person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.

The key factor that differentiates a service animal over a pet is training and certification. Service animals are carefully trained by experts to do their tasks and are subsequently licensed. A service animal’s owner will possess identification papers and the animal will usually wear some kind of identification collar or harness (but not always). Service animals are generally well trained, well behaved, and cause minimal damage.

Companion Animals

Companion animals, emotional support animals (ESA), therapy animals are terms used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  Studies have shown that people disabled with conditions like anxiety, depression, autism or post-traumatic stress can alleviate symptoms with an emotional support animal. Companion animals do not need to go through special training and an individual can qualify for an emotional support animal with a doctor’s approval.

Because companion animals or ESA have not been trained to perform a specific task or job, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. The ADA does not give individuals with companion animals the same opportunities as service animals to bring the animal with them to public places where pets are prohibited.

Landlords’ Responsibility to Service Animals and Companion Animals

Although the ADA treats companion animals differently than service animals, the Federal Fair Housing laws treat them similarly.  Companion animals do qualify for reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act and enforced by HUD.

If the conditions outlined above are met, where an individual has a verified need for an assistance animal or a companion animal, the a landlord or property manager must provide a reasonable accommodation and allow the animal on the property.

In some states, a companion animal is only allowed in the rental unit and not in community spaces of the property, like the pool area or recreation room.

As always, the rules vary by state and you should find an attorney to help you understand your state’s specific laws regarding your responsibilities and rights for providing reasonable accommodation to assistance animals.

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About the Author

About the Author: Kaycee (Wegener) Miller manages marketing and media relations for Rentec Direct, bringing a unique perspective to the world of property management and proudly shares industry news, products, and trends within the community. .


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There Are 8 Brilliant Comments

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  1. B says:

    I would like to be able to cite this, but I can’t open the pdf you reference: “You can find a complete version of these rules here.” Can you verify if the link is working for you? Is there another link or search term you could recommend to get to that file? I have tried searching for it using what seemed like obvious search terminology, but to no avail.

    Thank you.

  2. Bob says:

    There are exemptions to this rule

    Property managers/landlords are NOT required to make a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act for ESAs or Service Animals in these cases:

    Buildings with 4 or less units where the landlord occupies one of the units

    Single family housing sold or rented without a real estate broker

    Hotels and Motels are not considered dwellings under the FHA but are considered places of public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act

    Private Clubs

  3. mark says:

    We currently have a tenant who lived in our rental property for 7 month without the pet (per our lease contract). 2 weeks ago we were informed that there is a dog lives on our property. We informed our management co about it. Management co replied to us that the tenant was watching their parent’s dog and want to keep it as theirs. They also offered
    $ 500 Pet deposit . We have 1 year old carpet and newly painted walls in our rental, and it did cost around $ 5000 . We asked to add pet rent of $ 50 per month to an addition to pet rent and add the dog to renter’s insurance.
    Management co first made an attempt to negotiate and then sent us an email stating that the tenant said that their dog is ESA and the tenant in the process of the documents, and no deposit or pet fee will be allowed. My question is :should we consider that the dog is unauthorized dog or an ESA dog per management? What action we can legally take to protect our rights and property from potential damages from the dog.
    Our management is dual agency. We feel that they do not protect us . They are taking the tenant’s side.
    Can you please help us with your advice?

    • I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the management as they are pretty backed into a corner with this one. ESA are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act and there isn’t much protection for landlords, property managers or housing providers.

      If the tenant does not have the current paperwork stating that the animal is ESA and a doctors note stating the medical need for an ESA, then you can consider the tenant in breach of contract per your current “no pets allowed” policy stated in your lease. If there is nothing specific in your lease about pets, then you are truly out of luck. You can give the tenant xx number of days to prove the medical need for an ESA required per your pet policy, and fine the tenant, if it says so in your lease or issue a cure or quit notice.

      I would ask your property manager to please handle this immediately. If the tenant produces the proper paperwork immediately, then there isn’t much you can do. If it takes a few days or weeks, I would seriously question the medical need for this ESA.

      This particular situation sounds like a tenant who wants to keep a pet and avoid paying additional fees, rent or a deposit, so they googled how to get approved for an ESA. Or these tenants might have a legitimate need for an ESA. The point is, you cannot get mad at your property manager for following federal law. But you should write your congressman and ask them to please put regulations in place for ESA and rental housing so landlords feel their investments and properties are properly protected.

      I would also ask your property manager what kind of policies they have in place for ESA. IF they have none, you should work on creating some so you feel more comfortable if this situation comes up in the future.

  4. Chuck says:

    I have an elderly rental applicant who claims four (4) assistance animals. Her medical provider (a physician’s assistant) wrote a letter attesting to her disability and attesting that these four animals alleviate her symptoms (or effects of her disability).
    The law seems to fall fully on the side of the disabled person, yet the presence of these dogs will be upsetting to other residents. My plan is to tell them “the law is the law.”
    Yet I cannot find anywhere described whether there is any limit to the number of ESAs. This person has one disability and four (4) ESAs. What might stand in the way of her provider deciding she would be better off with twenty or thirty? Is there a limit addressed in statute, case law, or regulation? How many animals must be permitted before the landlord’s operation is fundamentally altered?

    • As a housing provider, you need to make reasonable accommodation for emotional support animals. But is allowing four ESA above and beyond reasonable accommodation? That’s a very good question. I wish we had clear understanding of the rules and regulations in regards to ESA and rental housing. I would speak with a local attorney familiar with rental housing laws in your area. good luck and let us know what happens.

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