The Ask Landlord Hank question this week for veteran real estate investor and landlord Hank Ross involves a landlord’s question about a no-pet policy and therapy or service dogs
Dear Landlord Hank:
I am in the process of re-renting a home in Puyallup. There is a no-pet policy in place at this property, as previous tenants with a dog destroyed some areas. Now that the house has been upgraded, with a no pet policy. What are my rights regarding the “therapy or service dog?” Can I ask for paperwork and/or anything else???
Dear Landlady Lois:
I am not able to give legal advice. Here is my understanding of the situation.
The federal Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, and allowing an assistive animal in a no-pet building can be such an accommodation. (See Fair Housing Amendments Act, 42 U.S.C. -3601-3619.) There are service animals that provide assistance to disabled people, like Seeing Eye dog, for instance, and there are emotional-support animals that have not been trained to perform a service, but are a companion animal. In this case, a letter from a medical doctor or therapist is all that is needed to classify the animal as an assistance animal.
My understanding is that when a person’s disability is not readily apparent, the landlord can request information to support the claim of a disability. This proof could be state disability benefits or a letter from a treating health provider stating that this person does indeed have a disability.
OK, so once it’s determined the applicant has a disability, they need to establish the need for an emotional-support animal.
If the need is not apparent, you can ask for supporting documentation that the person has a need for an emotional-support animal. The information or proof that the animal provides assistance should come from a qualified health care provider who is licensed or certified, is in good standing with their professional regulatory board, and has personal knowledge of the individual. Under the new law in Florida, a certificate or online registration from the internet, by itself, does not establish a disability or the need for an emotional=support animal.
What you can’t do is ask for a pet deposit, as the animal is not classified as a pet but as a medical device. You also cannot require information disclosing the actual diagnosis of the person, nor any medical records relating to that diagnosis. If the applicant is willing to provide that information, it would be at the applicant’s discretion.
I suggest, as always, that you do an in-depth background screening of all individuals, at their expense. If you have a good rental history, and prior landlords have said that the tenants were good tenants and that they would re rent to them, I’m normally satisfied with that portion of the screening. I like a 5-year residential history. If a tenant can’t control their service animal or emotional support animal or they damage property or are a nuisance, this is not something you have to put up with. Be very careful here though.