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Animals and Your Rental Property: Fair Housing and Other Laws

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Animals and Your Rental Property: Fair Housing and Other Laws

Americans love their animals. In fact, 41 percent of renters list allowing pets as a requirement for their next home. Renting to a pet owner can make good business sense because of this demand, and some landlords find animal lovers more responsible and willing to pay higher rent to accommodate their furry (or scaly) friends. But, you might not share your tenants’ enthusiasm, or you don’t want to deal with the potential damage a pet can do to your home.

As a landlord, you do have some control over whether you allow animals in your property, but there are some animals that are protected under fair housing laws.

The following is the two categories of animals you may (or may not) need to accommodate in your rental property:

  • Pets: allow or not
  • Assistance animals: reasonable accommodation

 

Before you make any final decisions about your animal policies, check with a local attorney who is well-versed in this subject about local laws and regulations regarding allowing animals at your rental.

Pets: a simple yes or no

If you decide to allow pets, you can still restrict certain types or sizes of animals. Be sure to specify in your lease — and in your listing — exactly which kinds of pets and how many are accepted at your property. Something like “two cats,” “one dog” or “one dog under 50 pounds.”

You can also require that you meet and approve the pet first. And, if your jurisdiction permits it, you can require a separate pet deposit if the animal causes damage to your property. You can create a separate pet agreement or spell out any other rules in your lease. For example, you can require that dogs and cats be licensed, spayed or neutered, and current on vaccinations.

One thing to keep in mind: Some insurance companies and homeowners associations have breed restrictions or other pet rules, so check before updating your rental agreement.

You can also not allow pets — just be explicit about it in your listing and in your lease.

But, what about the animals who are not pets but assistance or support animals? As a landlord, what does your animal policy need to be legally? More in the next sections.

Assistance animals: reasonable accommodation

Assistance animals are not pets — they’re assistants to people who have a disability. Assistance animals are usually dogs, but can be other types of animals, too. These animals are specially trained to perform disability-related tasks, such as guiding a person who is blind, pulling a wheelchair, alerting an owner to an impending seizure, performing complex household tasks and protecting their companions from oncoming traffic.

Emotional support animals are also considered assistance animals under fair housing guidelines. These animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan to provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

The need for an emotional support animal is not grounds for reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  But it is under fair housing laws. As a landlord, you must offer reasonable accommodation to renters with emotional support animals, or someone who develops a need for one while they are your tenant.  This is the case even if you have a no-pets policy.

Remember, to stay compliant with fair housing laws, you may not ask any question you wouldn’t ask every single renter or person who views your property. To determine if a assistance animal request should be granted, you can ask two questions if the need for the assistance animal is not obvious:

  • Is the animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

 

You cannot ask for any documentation for the animal, require that it demonstrate its task or ask about the nature of the person’s disability. You also cannot ask for or collect an additional deposit or extra rent for a assistance animal. Additionally, you may not impose weight, breed or size restrictions on an assistance animal. You can charge renters a fee if the assistance animal causes damage to your property.

If you believe your tenant or potential tenant does not have a disability or does not have a disability-related need for a assistance animal, the best thing to do is document the process so you have a record of your interactions, and then check with an experienced attorney before taking any action or refusing any requests.

The bottom line? Before you make any final decisions about your animal policies, check with a local attorney who is well-versed in this subject. And know that emotional support animals are considered assistance animals for fair housing purposes.

Editor’s note:  This article has been updated thanks to a Zillow reader who corrected an error about training and registration requirements for assistance animals.  Neither the federal nor state governments require service animals to be registered or trained.