Fair housing laws are constantly evolving, and one of the areas that has received a lot of attention in the last few years is tenants who have disabilities. Protecting the accommodations that disabled tenants need once meant installing wheelchair ramps or reserving parking spaces close to the building for people who might need help.
Today, it covers animals as well as medical devices and other accommodations. Service and support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are not pets, and they cannot be treated as pets.
A lot of the Everett rental property owners we talk to have questions about support and service animals, and we want to address them today.
Service and Support Animals vs. Pets
Service animals and emotional support animals are not pets. In the eyes of the law, they are to be considered accommodations that you must make for tenants and applicants who have disabilities. This means that you cannot deny an application or a tenant’s request to have a service animal or an emotional support animal, even if you have a strict no-pet policy.
The fact that these are not pets also affects what you can and cannot charge. You cannot charge a pet deposit or a pet fee. You cannot collect pet rent. These things are completely acceptable when you allow a tenant to move in with a pet. But, a service animal is not a pet. A support animal is not a pet.
Service Animals and Support Animals
Service and support animals are similar in that they are both accommodations for people with disabilities. But, they also have nuances that you should understand when you’re renting out an Everett property.
Service animals are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. That disability could be a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Examples of a service animal would be a Seeing Eye Dog or a Seizure Response Dog. These animals have credentials and are easily identified. They can be any breed, age, or size.
Emotional support animals or therapy animals are a bit different. They’re usually part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor or therapist. They provide companionship and often treat depression and anxiety. They don’t have any special training, however, and they are not considered service animals.
With service animals, you are not permitted to ask for documentation or certification. However, with an emotional support animal, you can ask to see the written treatment plan that prescribed the support animal. You are entitled to talk to the medical professional and to review his or her credentials and license. It’s easy for tenants to download generic forms from the internet establishing their pets as support animals. Be diligent in your screening process and take the time to verify the documentation with the medical professional of record.
Protecting your Everett Rental Property
Many landlords don’t allow pets in their homes because they worry about property damage. While this concern is understandable, you will face damages that are more expensive and punitive by violating the fair housing laws that protect tenants with service and support animals. You must allow otherwise qualified tenants to move in with their service animals or their support animals, otherwise you will be out of compliance with some very serious housing laws. The tenant is still responsible for the animal, and must clean up after it and ensure it behaves and isn’t a nuisance.