pets are a great comfort and value to their owners. They are also an excellent opportunity for landlords.
By allowing your tenants to own pets, you attract a large group of renters who would otherwise disregard your properties. Pets also improve your resident community and atmosphere.
Even if you don’t allow pets in your units, there are some cases in which you still can’t deny a tenant from living with an animal. For example, service, therapy, and emotional support animals are not pets and are therefore excused from your “no pets” policy.
Assistance animals are often a confusing topic for landlords. However, you should know the difference and your legal obligations to accommodate them should a tenant have one.
Below is a brief guide to the three types of non-pet animals and where they are permitted.
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Service animals (typically dogs) have the most protections and can enter almost any space their handler can. The law that determines the definition and nature of a service animal is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to the ADA, a service animal is highly trained to assist a single person with a disability. They can perform essential tasks like guiding someone with a vision impairment, keeping those with epilepsy safe during seizures, or alerting someone with hearing loss that a person or object is approaching from behind.
What obligations do you have as a housing provider regarding service animals? The ADA declares that businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations must make “reasonable modifications” to their spaces or services for service animals. This includes rental businesses. In coordination with the Fair Housing Act (FHA), you must modify your “no pets” rule to allow service animals.
Furthermore, you may not discriminate against renters with service animals during screening, restrict them from renting certain units, or otherwise treat them any differently.
Another thing to note is that you cannot ask for the service animal’s certification, as the ADA doesn’t require it. Service animals can be trained by their handlers or professionally.
The only circumstance in which you can exclude a service animal is if its presence would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the business or service. Furthermore, the animal also must always remain under the control of its handler.
Therapy animals, like service animals, are thoroughly trained to tolerate various environments and situations. However, the major difference is that therapy animals are not trained to assist a specific individual.
Instead, they offer general comfort to a group of people (patients at a hospital, residents of a nursing home, etc.) by participating in therapy activities under the supervision of their handler. They can be any species of animal.
Because therapy animals do not perform specific tasks for individuals, they have no federally protected right to enter public establishments. The law does not recognize them, so you may treat them like any other pet in your rental business.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
The last type of assistance animal is the emotional support animal (ESA). ESAs are not trained in any capacity to assist their owners. Instead, their primary purpose is to provide comfort to individuals through companionship.
For example, an individual suffering from anxiety might obtain a letter from their physician allowing them to register an ESA.
Because ESAs are untrained, they do not have the right under the ADA to enter any public establishment.
However, ESAs do have the right to live alongside their owners in any rented housing, even with a “no pets” policy. This means you cannot enforce pet fees or rent for ESAs (tenants are, however, still responsible for any damage their ESA causes). There is no official registration database for ESAs either, so tenants interested in this accommodation should provide you with a letter from a certified physician.
Welcoming Assistance Animals in Your Rentals
Service, therapy, and emotional support animals are critical to the well-being of their handlers. As a landlord, it’s your responsibility to fairly adhere to the ADA and FHA to give all your tenants equal opportunities in your rental business. By following the above guidelines for legal implications, you can safely welcome animals and their owners into your properties.