Today we’re talking about service and assistance animals. This is a relatively new area that landlords have to grapple with and it applies only to residential housing. Numerous federal laws regulate housing, specifically in regard to people with disabilities. In an effort to clarify those laws, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued an Update Letter in April of 2013, which clarifies the requirements across these three laws; Fair Housing Act, Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

Service and Assistance Animal Definitions

The letter states that a service animal is trained to perform work or tasks but it excludes dogs solely for emotional support. An assistance animal does not need to have training and can be any kind of support animal.

Assistance Animal Requirements

The letter clarified that an assistance animal is not a pet. It works and provides assistance for a person with a disability, or it provides emotional support. While there are complications associated with renting to a tenant who makes a reasonable accommodation request, there are basic laws to follow. An assistance animal is not a pet and a landlord cannot charge a pet fee or deposit. Landlords are not permitted to limit the size, breed or weight of an assistance animal. If the disability is not immediately discernible, a landlord cannot ask about the disability or require proof of the disability or proof of the assistance animal’s training, license or certification.

Service Animal Requirements

When a tenant brings a service animal, the landlord can ask about the tenant’s disability and ask for information about what task or service the animal is going to perform. If the disability is not discernible, you can ask for documentation about the disability and the need for a service animal.

There are a few conditions under which a landlord can deny a specific service animal. These are:

If the service or assistance animal is not under control of the handler or the handler does not take sufficient action to control the animal.
If the animal is not housebroken.
If the animal poses a clear and direct threat to the health and safety of others.

Understanding Federal Laws

The letter makes clear that the landlord cannot deny a reasonable accommodation request based on type or breed of animal. It’s important to note that due to the three different laws, there are different rules and requirements. So asking a tenant about their service animal is a tricky matter that can lead to complications. Nonetheless, it is the housing provider’s responsibility to understand the laws and ensure compliance.

Service Animals, Assistance Animals and Rental Property Laws in Marin, CA – Tips from a Professional Property ManagerThis blog has only touched upon the basics. The actual letter from which we gathered most of this information is six pages long and references numerous federal laws. You must understand the provisions of each law as it pertains to service and assistance animals.

If you have any questions pertaining to these animals or anything in property management, please contact us at Bayside Management.