This ultimate guide to assistance animals in rental housing can help landlords, property managers and apartment owners deal with both the legal and emotional side of the issue.
Consider the scenario where a prospective resident who is blind makes an accommodation request for her service dog or assistance animal to live in her apartment, even though your property doesn’t allow pets. Are you required to grant this request? The ultimate guide to assistance animals in rental housing provides more information here on this particular issue.
An assistance animal may be any type of animal and is not required to have specific training.
The FHA and Section 504 use “assistance animal” as a broad term to describe any 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 symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.
The typical story goes like this, where a prospective renter provides documentation from her doctor showing she needs an assistance animal because of her disability and she is told by a leasing agent that the owner does not allow pets.
One of the most common accommodation requests is to have an animal that would otherwise be restricted by a community’s rules.
In these cases, it is important to understand that service and assistance animals are not pets. Rather, they provide an important service to people with disabilities. You must know how to handle these accommodation requests in compliance with the law.
So in the example above, HUD recently announced a conciliation agreement between two Nevada real estate companies and a prospective resident to resolve a claim that the companies denied the prospective resident’s request to have an assistance animal live with her in her apartment home. Read the agreement here.
Ultimate Guide To Assistance Animals In Rental Housing And 3 Criteria That Must Be Met In Regards To Assistance Animals
Always review and verify the three criteria that must be met for a person to be protected by the FHA and Section 504 in regard to assistance animals:
- The person must have a disability
- The animal must serve a function directly relates to the person’s disability
- The request to have the animal must be reasonable.
Some housing providers don’t raise questions about suspicious documentation because they fear being accused of discrimination. It is important to know that it is ok to question suspicious documentation and ask for more information. Also know your Fair Housing Act for assistance animals and emotional support animals.
No matter what the source for the documentation of assistance animals, if you are suspicious, do not immediately deny the accommodation request. Instead, start a conversation with the resident to gather more information.
Evaluating a reasonable accommodation request should be an individualized process with an ongoing dialog between you and the resident.
Often people file discrimination claims because they don’t feel heard, don’t understand the process, or aren’t kept in the loop.
Don’t underestimate the importance of good communication.
One of the most common accommodation requests people with disabilities make is to have an animal that would otherwise be restricted by a community’s rules which says “no pets.”
An accommodation for an assistance animal that would otherwise be prohibited in an apartment complex is a common request property managers and landlords get. Remember, while assistance animals are not pets, this does not mean they can run loose in your community.
Here are some rules and policies you can use for assistance animals.
- Residents must pay for damages, beyond reasonable wear and tear, caused by the animal.
- All animals must be vaccinated in accordance with state and local laws.
- Residents must dispose of all waste and observe all leash rules
Be sure to let tenants know that you make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who need an assistance animal.
Currently, no organization is legally recognized for registering service or assistance animals. Any organization making that claim is misleading its audience.
One of the most common accommodation requests multifamily housing providers get is for a resident to have an animal that would otherwise be restricted by a community’s rules.
But in the past few years, websites have popped up that provide questionable medical verifications for service and assistance animals. Some people are using these sites to get around no-pet policies or avoid things like breed and size restrictions.
But other people are motivated by a legitimate service need or deep emotional connection to their animals, which can make this a sensitive issue to navigate.
One of the situations that many people find particularly confusing is when there are multiple animals involved and an apartment complex that may have a one-pet rule.
- Can residents have more than one assistance animal?
- Can residents have pets and assistance animals?
- Read more here at Grace Hill on this.
Pets are a way of life in rental housing and if you want your rentals fully leased, pet owners are a key tenant demographic you want to keep and apartment pet DNA testing can be the key.
Look just at Millennials: 76 percent are pet owners and a majority are renters.
You might have laughed at first at this headline on how apartment pet DNA testing could fix your apartment property’s pet poop problem. Read the details here.
Owners, landlords and property managers may want to consider whether pet-friendly apartments and a welcoming pet policy may be the best way to deal with the issues. Here is a guide to the issues and comments from apartment owners, property managers and The Humane Society of the United States.
One landlord said in an interview that the companion pet issue in particular is one where he just does not know where to go to get the right answers.
He said he understands service animals, but when it comes to things like assistance animals, companion pets and emotional support animals, he is confused by the terms.
And he said it seems like today tenants “can get a note from anyone” and “I have to accept their pet.”
While some landlords and property managers struggle with the pet issue, overall there is a trend nationwide to more and more pet-friendly apartments, and many landlords and property managers say pets are a key to their success. The Humane Society of the United States is also working with the multifamily industry through its Pets Are Welcome initiative to help property owners or managers as well as tenants, since 72 percent of all renters now have pets.
“Too many home and apartment owners exclude animals, thinking that the animals are going to damage the properties. That mentality shrinks the pool of living spaces for people and their pets,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States writes in a blog post.