Hey landlords, do you know the service animal laws in your state? Service dogs, or “guide dogs” have been around to help the blind and other people with disabilities since the beginning of recorded history. According to Kirsten at ServiceDogCentral.org, the first guide dog was trained “at least as long ago as the middle ages.” Old carvings with dogs leading humans suggest this relationship has occurred ever since the human and dog first met. More officially, the first “Seeing Eye” dog came along when Buddy, a German Shepherd, changed the world forever.
Morris Frank with Buddy, his “Seeing Eye” dog
[bctt tweet=”Why service animals may force you to allow pets! #AssetRover http://wp.me/p6GBMd-Cd”]
There are three official types of animals out there that provide support to humans. They are service animals, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals.
Service Animals: These are specially trained animals that help the owner with certain tasks. These could be “Seeing Eye” dogs or animals who can pick items up for disabled persons. These animals don’t need vests and according to the ADA, only dogs and miniature horses (yes, you saw that correctly) qualify to be a service animal. Service animal laws allow the animal to live with their disabled owners, even if a “no-pets” policy is in place by their landlord or Homeowners Association (HOA).
Therapy Dogs: These dogs provide emotional support to the owner and must be able to tolerate a wide variety of experiences, environments, and people. They often visit hospitals, schools, and other institutions to aid in psychological or physical therapy.
Emotional Support Animals: The primary function of these animals are to provide emotional support, through companionship, to disabled owners. They aren’t trained to do any specific tasks like a service dog, but aren’t protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act like service animals are. Just like service animals, these animals are allowed to live with their disabled owners, even if a “no-pets” policy is in place by their landlord or Homeowners Association (HOA).
A legit service animal, a mini horse may also be the coolest animal ever, until we can track down the elusive “tiny giraffe.”
Do I Have to Let These Animals Into My Rental?
Warning: This is a complicated topic that requires YOU to seek legal advice with a real estate attorney. This is for awareness and informational purposes only. Some people have no clue about exceptions or service animal laws, so we want to get the word out. To make real decisions on leasing and tenant screening, be sure to involve your attorney.
As cute as a mini horse may be, you probably don’t like the idea of a mini horse in your house. A horse by any other name in your house is still a horse, of course. Now that I’ve twisted your tongue in knots, let’s go over the various support pets and how you need to deal with them.
Referring to the infographic above, the only animals we need to worry about for our rentals are Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals. These animals have to be allowed in a rental, even if you have a “no pets” policy at your property. This also will apply to the Homeowners Association (HOA) bylaws that may already govern your ability to allow pets in your rental. The important question is “what’s qualifies as an emotional support animal?” According to federal law, you only need to permit emotional support animals for those who are disabled and have a mental illness, not just everyone with a mental illness. Although every one of these individuals may benefit from an emotional support animal, it doesn’t mean they qualify to have one. One good way to remember the difference is to listen to the words of New Yorker contributor Patricia Marx: “The I.R.S. classifies [service] dogs as a deductible medical expense, whereas an emotional-support animal is more like a blankie.”
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What about pet deposits? Generally, the landlord is not permitted to require a deposit for the emotional support animal. You, as a landlord, still have the right to charge fees for any damage done by the animal once the damage has been assessed. Also, if the tenant modified the property (at their cost) to accommodate the animal (fence in the yard, doggie door, etc.), you can charge the tenant a fee for returning the property to its original condition (within reason, of course.) You are not required to modify the home to accommodate the service/emotional support animal. By the way, don’t confuse this with wheelchair accessibility, which you do need to accommodate!
Notice: Again, please seek an attorney since service animal laws may vary by state. This is for informational purposes only!
You Still Have Rights
Just because you have to allow these Services Dogs and Emotional Support Animals at your property doesn’t mean they get to do whatever they want. You still have certain rights and they allow you to prevent these pet owners from abusing the system. Here are 5 things you can ask from the tenant:
- Ask for information on how the animal has been trained to assist them, i.e., certain tasks it performs (the legality of you doing this will vary by state, seek an attorney).
- Require a letter from a medical doctor stating why a service or emotional support animal is needed and if it is because of a disability. (Don’t ask WHAT the disability is! You cannot ask specific questions about someone’s disability!)
- Require the resident to have control of the animal and be in the company of it when in common areas or outside.
- If the animal exceeds a weight limit you set, ask for a letter from a medical doctor to prove that this large of an animal, or this type of animal is required. A large animal may not be necessary and since it’s not a pet, a smaller animal may still be sufficient to support the disability.
- Require the owner to be responsible for the animal in regards to noise and nuisance laws in your city, and to be responsible for damage to common areas that this animal may cause.
So, in some cases, you may be able to have the animal removed if it threatens others, barks constantly, makes a mess in everyone’s yard, or causes significant inconvenience to the neighborhood.
[bctt tweet=”Service animal vs. emotional support animal, why you should care #AssetRover http://wp.me/p6GBMd-Cd”]
Spotting the Fakers
According to ServiceDogCentral.org, there isn’t any real certification or registration for service dogs, therapy dogs, or emotional support dogs. The dog can be trained and given a certificate of completion through a school, but they’re not required. If someone gives you a registration, some special certificate, or an ID for the dog, this is fake according to ServiceDogCentral. The website has a great resource on spotting fake certification/registration/IDs for service animals.
Emotional-support cards are another item that companies are selling to help scam the system. Your fake emotional support pet gets registered in a organization’s database that costs from $70 to $200 to be added to. None of these organizations are actually recognized by the government. In fact, you could register your stuffed animal as long as you send them money!
To sum it up, if you run into potential tenants with service dogs or emotional support animals, screen them just like any other tenant and never discriminate based on the service animal, but do remember that their dog might just need to come along with them…and that you have rights!
For More Info…
If you would like to dig into some “dog law” and check out some recent court cases, check out:
United States DOJ – Fair Housing Lawsuit Filed Against Univ. of Nebraska at Kearney for Discrimination Against Students with Psychological and Emotional Disabilities (Emotional Assistance Dog)