Assistance Animal and Rental Properties
One common concern for property managers and landlords is how to know if an animal is a valid assistance animal, or a pet in the disguise of an assistance animal in an attempt to get around the landlord’s pet policy or avoiding paying pet rent. Service animals, are not usually a point of contention as they are “workers” and are trained to provide disability-related functions. The contention arises with assistance animals, which have no specific training, and provide emotional support and companionship to help alleviate the symptoms of the disability such as anxiety. The following excerpt that was written for the multifamily housing industry contains one of the best discussions I have come across on the issue of assistance animals. An important caveat, check with a legal consultant if you have a difficult situation involving assistance animals to be sure you comply with HUD guidelines and avoid a possible fair housing claim.
Excerpt: “Clearing the Air On Companion Animals: What Property Managers Should Know
companion-animals” By Tim Blackwell, Property Manager Insider Sep 28, 2016
“While the multifamily housing industry has become pet friendly, some furry friends are catching the ire of property managers. Residents who attempt to bring their pets on property under the guise of them being companion animals are leaving some apartment operators fearing fair housing issues if they don’t comply.
In a spirited conversation recently on Property Management Insider’s LinkedIn group, some said it’s not worth the risk of legal action to fight a tenant who appears to be purposely abusing fair housing protections in order to avoid paying pet deposits, fees or skirt no-pet policies. Others disagreed, saying that if such situations are handled in accordance with the laws, properties can minimize the threat of a fair housing claim.
“It is important to ask the prospective resident what type of service the animal provides” said Billy Rosenberg, President of Infinity Residential Inc. “If the only service provided is companionship without any additional medical services, the application for request of a service animal can be denied and fees/deposits can be administered.”
Companion or Emotion Support Animals
Companion or emotional support animals fall within the definition of assistance animals under the Housing and Urban Development’s guidelines, “Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs.” While service animals are generally animals that work and provide disability-related functions (such as guiding persons with vision impairments) other animals can be considered to assist somebody who has a mental or psychological disability by providing emotional support and companionship to help alleviate the symptoms of the disability.
Neither type of assistance animal is required by law to be specially trained, and reliable verification of disability and disability-related need for an assistance animal (unless both are readily apparent or known to the provider) is proof enough. By law, housing providers cannot charge extra deposits, fees, impose type, size or breed restrictions or prohibit the animal from living on premises, even if a “no-pet” policy is in place.
But landlords can cover themselves and put the onus back on the resident. Remember that residents must make a request for a reasonable accommodation and housing providers cannot ask the nature of the resident’s disability. Verification that the resident has a disability and that the animal is related to and needed because of the disability, unless both are readily apparent, can be requested. She also said that a certificate or other document indicating the animal is a registered service or emotional support animal isn’t enough. These documents can be acquired on the internet without any proof of disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.
It is okay for housing providers to set reasonable rules of conduct that residents with assistance animals must follow. If the animal poses a threat to the health or safety of others or damages property, the resident can be held to the same standards as any pet, according to HUD. However, breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied.
Property managers have a remedy when assistance animal owners don’t follow rules. Property managers can take action against residents who violate the assistance animal rules but should do so with a little extra care, Dover said. For example, warning letters recognizing that the animal is an assistance animal, but reminding the resident that they still must follow reasonable rules of conduct, should generally be issued, rather than serving a legal notice that might be used in the case of a pet rules violation. The landlord can state that if the problem persists, the animal may have to be removed. In any event, the landlord should state that if removal of the animal is required, alternative accommodations will be explored. That, Dover said, can include a request to replace the animal with another.”