Landlords Face Lawsuits Over Companion Animals

by Chris on September 26, 2016

Tenants in a housing complex in Meeker, Colorado have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking compensation for their suffering after their landlord told them they’d have to get rid of their companion animals.

The three tenants claim their landlord ordered them to remove the animals from the property. The resulting injuries that the tenants suffered are significant, and the tenants are seeking monetary compensation. According to a news report, the landlord previously required tenants to pay a $300 fee for a companion animal, and would accept only letters from a medical doctor.

tenant screeningIn a related case, a Pittsburgh-area woman has filed a federal lawsuit seeking compensation against her landlord for refusing to allow her to bring her companion animal into common areas of her apartment complex, as would be required for a service animal. The tenant is seeking a monetary judgment for her suffering, including increased anxiety and humiliation.

Lawsuits like these can be extremely costly for landlords, even if the landlord ultimately prevails or the case is settled out of court. Damages can be awarded to the tenant for personal injury. In some instances, particularly in cases where the injury is severe, or where multiple tenants are affected by the landlord’s illegal policies, punitive damages may be assessed in addition to tenant compensation. The costs of the litigation likely will far outweigh any potential damage the animal may have caused while at the property.

While many landlords understand the requirement to accept service animals, the rules regarding companion or emotional support animals can be more confusing.

Generally, a tenant with a disability who has a prescription from a health provider is entitled to a companion animal. When screening the rental applicant, the landlord is not allowed to ask extensive questions about the tenant or the animal, and can only determine if the tenant qualifies for the companion. This animal (of the tenant’s choosing) must be allowed to access all areas on the building that the tenant may access. No additional rent, deposit or fees can be charged.

While pet rules in general do not apply to companion animals, the tenant is required to meet any local health or safety rules, including picking up after the animal, and keeping others safe. Tenants also are liable for any damages that the animal causes, and are subject to eviction for violating provisions in the lease agreement, other than no-pets policies.

If you have questions regarding companion animal requests, contact your attorney before rejecting an applicant or taking action against a current tenant.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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