Is Your Pets Policy Illegal?

by | Sep 5, 2011 | Rental Property Management Tips

HUD is taking issue with landlords who enforce a strict “no-pets” policy.

This week it announced that it is charging an Iowa couple with violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to allow a “companion animal” for a family whose child has a disability.

According to the complaint, the landlords at first refused to allow a seven-year-old girl with cerebral palsy to have a medically-prescribed “emotional support animal” because of the pets policy, then later told the girl’s mother that if she got a dog, she would have to either move or pay more money to stay.

According to HUD’s charge, the mother and her daughter were aware of the housing provider’s “no-pets” policy when they moved in and did not contest it at that time.

Later, recalling that the Labrador retriever who previously lived with them had alleviated stress for her daughter, the mother asked the owners to permit the daughter to have a dog live with them, and provided documentation of the need for the animal from the daughter’s pediatrician and therapist.

The owners denied the request, stating, “We are not intending to modify the ‘no-pets’ policy on our property.” The owners later said that if the mother insisted on bringing the dog in, they would need to collect a $200 deposit and charge an extra $25 per month more for rent.

The mother and child eventually moved out of the building to another apartment, which cost more and was much farther from the child’s school.

Earlier this month, HUD filed charges in a similar case against a New York landlord who refused to allow the tenant to bring in an “emotional support dog” because it violated the landlord’s ” no-pets” policy.  Although the pet was prescribed by a doctor, the landlord challenged whether the man suffers from a disability.

Both cases are similar in that the tenants moved into the properties knowing that pets were not allowed, and asked to bring in the animals mid-lease. The other similarity is that these animals were not traditional “service” dogs but rather “companion animals” and this may be an indication that landlords are confused regarding terminology.

But HUD makes it clear that two factors are crucial in determining whether enforcing a “no-pets” policy in these cases is discriminatory: both tenants allegedly suffer from a disability, and in both cases the companion animals were medically-prescribed.

If a doctor designates the animal as a means to treat a disability, then a landlord cannot refuse a “reasonable accommodation in their rules, policies, practices, or services when needed to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling,” according to HUD. It is also against the law to impose different rules and restrictions on those who make such a request, including charging them extra money. HUD’s statement regarding the case implies not only is it against the law for a landlord to charge “pet rent”–the extra $25 per month in this case, but also to require a pet deposit.

In a related case, an Oregon landlord was charged with discrimination after she suggested that the tenant choose a different companion animal–a fish or a bird, rather than a dog.

The Iowa case will be argued in front of an administrative law judge, who has the authority to award damages to the victims.

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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