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Good Policies and Practices when Dealing with Service Animals

Image is of a Pit Bull Service dog.Most professional property managers understand the importance of having a good pet policy. Even property managers and rental homeowners that don’t allow pets on the property should have a pet policy clearly outlined in all rental leases.  Many rental property owners though struggle to know how to adequately or legally deal with service animals and assistive animals.

Landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with service animals and assistive animals under the Fair Housing Act.  Property managers should also know that service animals are not pets and are not covered by any pet policies they or investment property owners may have.  There are many different laws and rules for assistive and service animals on rental properties and though it can seem daunting, understanding the basic legal requirements for renting to a tenant with a service animal will save a lot of headaches down the road.

One of the best sources for basic guidelines for landlords and property managers is outlined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on their website:

What is a Service Animal or an Assistive Animal?

“An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the Fair Housing Act nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified.  While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.”

What Information can a Property Manager seek when A Reasonable Accommodation for an Assistive Animal is requested?

“A provider is entitled to obtain information that is necessary to evaluate if a requested reasonable accommodation may be necessary because of a disability. If a person’s disability is obvious, or otherwise known to the provider, and if the need for the requested accommodation is also readily apparent or known, then the provider may not request any additional information.  If the disability and/or the disability-related reason for the requested accommodation is not known or obvious, the requesting individual, medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability may also provide verification of a disability. In most cases, an individual’s medical records or detailed information about the nature of a person’s disability is not necessary for this inquiry.”

When may a Property Manager Refuse to Provide a Reasonable Accommodation for an Assistive Animal?

“A housing provider can deny a request for a reasonable accommodation if the request was not made by or on behalf of a person with a disability or if there is no disability-related need for the accommodation. In addition, a request for a reasonable accommodation may be denied if providing the accommodation is not reasonable – i.e., if it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider or it would fundamentally alter the nature of the provider’s operations. The determination of undue financial and administrative burden must be made on a case-by-case basis involving various factors, such as the cost of the requested accommodation, the financial resources of the provider, the benefits that the accommodation would provide to the requester, and the availability of alternative accommodations that would effectively meet the requester’s disability-related needs.”

Property managers and rental property owners should be aware that service animals are allowed wherever a person may go, including restricted animal areas.  They cannot collect a pet deposit or charge a pet fee for a service animal and they cannot enforce weight or breed restrictions for service animals or assistive animals.  They can require written verification from a tenant’s health care provider explaining the need for a service animal but cannot ask for any specific information concerning their disability.   Property managers can also require all service animals to be parasite free and vaccinated.

Image is a service dog in vest with badge.Should a service animal cause damage to the property or threaten the safety and/or well being of other tenants, property managers are allowed to give written warnings and even evict the tenant if necessary.   Tenants can also be liable for any damages caused by service animals or assistive animals.

Professional property managers like Martin Feinberg are always aware of their legal responsibilities, both to their rental property owners and to their tenants. Understanding and following state and federal laws regarding service animals and assistive animals is an important aspect of their responsibilities and one more reason why using a property manager often makes good financial sense.