What Are the Laws Regarding Service Animals and Tenants?

service animals and tenants

When it comes to pets, landlords have the right to create their own policies—but what if a tenant asks you to make an exception for their service animal? What are your obligations?

To avoid potential discrimination claims, landlords and property owners need to familiarize themselves with federal, state, and local laws regarding service animals. By understanding the various categories of assistance animals and the criteria that allow tenants to request accommodations, you can protect yourself and your property.

Please note that this is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Laws may vary based on your location.

HUD’s Guidelines on Service Animals. 

Under the Fair Housing Act, you’re legally required to allow service animals at your rental property if the tenant qualifies for reasonable accommodation and has a verifiable need for an assistance animal. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has laid out the following guidelines for landlords and property managers:

  • Since service animals aren’t pets, rental “pet policies” don’t apply to them. 
  • Service animals are permitted anywhere on the property that the tenant is allowed to go. This includes areas that would typically be restricted to animals. 
  • Landlords are not allowed to charge additional fees or a pet deposit for service animals. 
  • Weight limits and breed restrictions don’t apply to service animals. 
  • Landlords are allowed to request written verification from a tenant’s healthcare provider stating the tenant is disabled and needs the assistance of a service animal. However, they cannot ask for details relating to the nature of the disability. 
  • Landlords have the right to evict a tenant if their service animal is causing a disturbance or is a threat to others on the property. 
  • Landlords can request a copy of the service animal’s health records to ensure it’s healthy and up-to-date on its vaccinations. 
  • Landlords can only deny a service animal if the landlord (or an immediate family member) has an allergy to the animal or if that animal has aggressively threatened someone. 

If a tenant qualifies for reasonable accommodation, the request for a service animal is legally enforceable. The Fair Housing Act and the American Disabilities Act allow tenants to request reasonable accommodations for disabilities if they meet certain criteria, which include:

  1. Having mental or physical impairments that significantly limit one or more major life activities (for example, walking, seeing, or cleaning), or
  2. Having a history of such impairments, or 
  3. Being regarded as having such impairments

HUD provides additional information and assistance to help landlords and property managers understand their responsibilities regarding service animals.

What’s the Difference Between Service and Emotional Support Animals?

Service animals are essentially working animals that have been trained to perform specific tasks for their owners. Since their owners need to have service animals with them at all times, they are allowed to go places companion animals can’t go, such as grocery stores or restaurants. An example of a service animal is a dog that alerts its owner of an oncoming seizure or a sharp drop in blood sugar. 

Emotional support animals are any type of companion animal that provides emotional and or physical support by being with their owner. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal hasn’t been trained to perform specific tasks. Due to this, emotional support animals aren’t granted the same opportunities as service animals to go to places where companion animals are restricted. For a companion animal to qualify as an emotional support animal, all that’s needed is a note from a medical doctor or therapist. 

However, the term “service animal” is often used to refer to both service animals and emotional support animals. 

Although the ADA and Federal Fair Housing laws treat companion animals and service animals differently, they are treated similarly under the Fair Housing Act, which is enforced by HUD. This means that companion animals are eligible for reasonable accommodations if the conditions outlined above are met and the individual has a verified need for an emotional support companion animal.

Landlords and property managers are required to provide reasonable accommodations and allow the animal on the property. However, some states have specific regulations that only allow companion animals in the rental unit and not in communal areas like the pool or recreation room.

Understand the Laws for Your Property

The federal laws regarding service animals are clear, however, it’s important to keep in mind that your property may be subject to additional state and local laws. To prevent potential issues, it’s always best to review the laws as they relate to your property. You may also want to consider consulting with an attorney to ensure you’re in compliance with all federal, state, and local regulations. 

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