At some point, a landlord may come in contact with a tenant who requires a service animal due to a disability. That’s why it’s important to understand the laws guiding service animals, what your rights are as a landlord, and what your requirements are when it comes to accommodating a service animal.
The Laws Surrounding Service Animals
According to federal and state laws, tenants with a disability are entitled to a service animal. In fact, while most laws usually refer to “service animals,” courts have also ruled that disabled tenants are entitled to an animal for emotional support as well, meaning that there is a rather broad definition of what constitutes a service animal when it comes to disabled tenants. This is also why service animals are also sometimes also referred to as “support animals.”
In general, a support animal is defined as an animal that provides assistance to someone with a disability, which can include aiding a disabled person who is experiencing difficulties with hearing, mobility, seizures, or vision, but many other types of disability are also covered.
The Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) indicates that landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations to allow disabled tenants to have a service animal if it aids in improving their quality of life. While many landlords have a no-pet policy, this policy does not legally apply to service animals. Essentially, tenants who are eligible for a service animal are entitled to have one inside their home no matter what your current policy is.
Proving a Tenant Is Eligible for a Service Animal
Of course, you can also verify whether a tenant is actually eligible for a service animal. That means you can ask a tenant to offer written proof from a medical professional or provider that indicates a tenant is disabled and that they require a service animal. Keep in mind that you are not permitted to ask what type of disability the tenant has.
You should also beware of any scams involving tenants providing certificates that say they are eligible for keeping the animal as a "comfort animal", as some companies offer such certificates for a small fee.
Your Rights as a Property Owner
There are situations in which you may reject a service animal request or prohibit a service animal from being on your property. For example, you may say no to a service animal that poses a direct threat to others inside your property. This exception might arise if the service animal attacks or threatens another tenant. Furthermore, tenants who have a service animal must still adhere to reasonable rules regarding that animal. That means a disabled tenant is required to ensure a service animal isn't too loud and isn't disturbing other tenants in common areas, and that they clean up after their animal.
Remember, if you want to potentially prove in court that a service animal is a threat or that a tenant is not following the rules surrounding their service animal, you should be recording all violations and specific instances. If you had to call the police or animal control regarding a service animal, this will also play a huge role.
While most service animals undergo extensive training, tend to be well behaved and are unlikely to cause significant problems, you also shouldn't be afraid to exercise your rights if a service animal is posing a threat or other problem. Follow the above information, and you should be able to approach this issue with disabled tenants in a way that meets both their needs and yours.
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