Can Landlord Refuse Pit Bull as Companion Animal?

by Chris on August 5, 2013

Q: We received a request from a couple to see our single-family rental. This couple has a companion dog for the wife who has anxiety. The dog is a pit bull. The husband said the dog was insured in case it hurt anyone. We do not have any fencing around our property and small children play in front of our rental. Within our block there are about 12 children. We are afraid of liability that might arise as a result of allowing this pit bull in our rental. Since this is a companion dog and not a service dog I would think the breed of dog and the history that this breed has in terms of danger to others would be a major consideration in whether we have to rent to this tenant. Can you give any thought to this question? -TVS Landlord

Under the companion animal rules, a landlord cannot apply any policies that generally apply to pets.  A landlord cannot reject the applicant simply because he or she is disabled or has a companion animal.

tenant screeningUnfortunately, the pit bull breed does have a reputation for aggression. The Center for Disease Control once reported that pit bull breeds, along with rottweillers, accounted for more than half of fatal attacks on humans. In that report, 58% of attacks were from unrestrained dogs at the owner’s residence. Most of the victims were children.

The situation is complicated by the conflict between companion animal laws and negligence laws. A Kentucky court recently found that landlords could be deemed “statutory” pet owners if they allow tenants to keep an animal with vicious propensities. The injuries sustained from pit bull attacks can be heinous, and often involve innocent victims, including children. Jury awards in these cases can be astronomical.

Still, there are some flaws in the statistics. For instance, a policy of rejecting all pit bulls does not address the other 50% of attacks caused by less notorious breeds.

The nation’s fair housing regulator – HUD – maintains that rejecting a rental applicant for keeping a companion animal is discriminatory. In published guidelines, HUD has indicated that a landlord cannot inquire about the level of service training a companion animal may have, and cannot reject a tenant based solely on the breed of a companion animal. Landlords who violate the law face penalties that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

HUD does, however, provide some exceptions. For instance, if the state or other local government regulates animals, like banning certain breeds, a landlord is not required to break the law in order to accommodate the tenant’s companion animal request. Leash laws may require the owner to remain with the dog any time it is outside where there is no fenced yard.

Where the landlord’s insurance carrier will not insure a “dangerous” breed, threatens to increase the landlord’s insurance rate, or places similar special conditions on the property insurance coverage, HUD has indicated that it may make an exception. (The insurance that the applicant is referring to may be a renter’s policy, so it is unclear whether that would indemnify you as landlord or cover business losses.)

If accommodating a companion animal creates undue financial hardship or administrative burden, the landlord may be exempt.

Finally, if the individual animal (not the breed) poses a direct threat to others or causes physical damage to the property or neighboring properties, the landlord may not be required to make the accommodation.

Landlords have to be very careful with respect to the questions they ask regarding the applicant’s disability and the need for a companion animal. However, the landlord does have the right to verify that the person suffers from a disability, and to determine if a health practitioner has prescribed the companion animal to assist in treating the disability.

Because a landlord does not have to accept an animal that poses a threat to others, it is logical to assume that the landlord has the right to determine if the individual animal has violent propensities. That’s usually accomplished by speaking with previous landlords, and by asking the tenant to verify that the animal does not have a history of aggressive behavior.

The companion animal rules are enforced on an individual, case-by-case basis. In this situation, consider what factors may apply. For instance, is the history of the animal unknown? Does the owner appear unable to control or care for the animal, especially in a situation where there is no fenced-in area? Are neighbors fearful?

If these or other factors are present, one possible course of action is to speak preemptively to your local HUD office and explain your concerns. This may reduce the risk of a discrimination claim, and the liability for any potential injuries.

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).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

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.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

amy briggs June 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I have pitbulls. I also have depression and anxiety how could I go about having my dogs be compaions.

Elvis costello July 12, 2014 at 6:06 am

Pitbull as a companion animal. That’s a scam and the abuse of a system set up to help people that really need it, like soldiers coming home with PTSD. This is just like perfectly healthy people that use their elderly relatives handicap parking tags for the best parking spot at Walmart. Total scumbags.

opsalt August 23, 2014 at 9:09 am

Amy, all you have to do is talk to your doctor and have them we rite you a letter for your dog’s , my doctor did it for me. I have 3 pits

beebs September 5, 2014 at 10:45 pm

to the obviously pissed off PTSD soldier who got denied a handicap parking tag. obviously you have no idea what you are talking about, its a way around being the out of control breed restriction rules so those of us who are responsible pit bull owners can enjoy living where we want with our dogs. its not like anyone is accepting welfare money or crying PTSD to get the drugs to treat it. as a matter of fact, it is a proven fact that people who own animals live longer…maybe you should get a pit bull, might cure your PTSD! at least if that is what chose to do you would not have to worry about finding someplace where they are allowed. i don’t know where you think you see a scam or to go so far as call the people using the law to their advantage, scum bags. you know the old saying; “if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all?” the world could be a so much more pleasant if more people would try putting that saying into affect.

your welcome:-)

JFraser October 5, 2014 at 8:36 am

Issuing one of the first court verdicts to weigh a conflict between the right of a legally disabled person to keep a companion animal and the duty of landlords to protect tenants from dangerous dogs, U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled on August 8, 2002, that the San Francisco landlord of Guy Lowe, 38, met the requirements of federal law and the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission by allowing legally disabled persons to keep small dogs, and that Lowe, whose claimed disability is severe depression, acted unreasonably in demanding to keep a pit bull terrier. “The potentially catastrophic consequences of a pit bull attack must be considered, even if the risk of that attack is remote,” Judge Alsup wrote.

I had a person try to rent from me claiming he required a “companion animal” and presented a note written by a psychiatrist on a prescription pad as proof. I told him I would not accept such flimsy evidence, contacted the psychiatrist and asked if he would state in writing on his letterhead that the person absolutely required the services of a companion animal and if he would be willing to testify to such in court if subpoenaed to do so. The shrink declined — as I knew he would — and I sent the dog freak and his “companion animal” packing.

JFraser October 5, 2014 at 8:52 am

@beebs: It is NOT “a proven fact that people who own animals live longer.” In fact, the opposite is true. Working people who own dogs are much more likely to call in sick — for themselves or their children — than those who do not own dogs. Additionally, a friend of mine who owns an over-55 apartment community says her residents who own pets are hospitalized more often and do not live as long as her residents who do not own pets. This isn’t surprising because animals pass various zoonotic diseases to humans, and the elderly and people who are diabetic or have sores or other open wounds are particularly susceptible to bacteria, etc. transmitted by dogs and cats.

The reason you people who choose to own pit bulls aren’t allowed to “enjoy living” where you want with your land sharks, is because you chose to own a dangerous animal and the rest of us, particularly those of us who are landlords, have an obligation to protect our residents from dangerous conditions and I cannot think of a more dangerous condition than a pit bull! So far this year, pit bulls have been responsible for 27 of the 32 deaths-by-dog in the United States and they have scalped, dismembered and seriously injured hundreds of others, leaving them maimed and scarred for life. Just last Friday, a man in Detroit lost both hands and feet in a pit bull attack. It’s way past time pit bulls were banned and the ban strictly enforced.

Diann October 13, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Hello i am domestic violence victim and i am suffering from PTSD. I talked to my doctor and told her i would really like to have a dog to make my kids feel safe and me. She wrote me a doctors note saying that my doctor “will be willing to provide laws and regulations by request” and told me that with this written no one is allowed to question me and if someone does its discrimination. well i have bonded with a dog and want to adopt her but they contacted my landlord to ask if i can have her (because she happens to be a pitbull mix) I told them they can’t do that but they said they want to be sure there are no breed restrictions. And now my landlord is telling me it could take months to be approved!!! They will not hold the dog that long and i can’t wait that long i am terrified of men and people at this point (I volunteer at the humane society and found that dogs don’t judge and i feel like they understand me and they make me feel safe and better…… I have shown the doctors note everyone and i know that my doctor needs to fill out certain paperwork but i was told that does not change my medical needs. Are my rights being violated? I’m feeling very bullied.

Betty J Norris July 5, 2017 at 7:31 pm

Personally I am not a big pitbull fan. However I believe it is the way its raised. Doberman dogs attack way more than the pitbull breed. I have heard of more German shepherd attacks. So people should get more educated on the pittbull breed. You can make any animal mean. My son has had 3 that died of old age and they wouldn’t even chase a cat. So the raising has alit to do with it. And pittbulls were originally bred for nanny’s

Lauren July 10, 2017 at 3:35 pm

I get real tired of people saying that pit bulls are vicious animal I have a pitbull she is such a baby she’s never harmed anybody in her life and yet down the street I have a neighbor who has a little Chihuahua who will bite at anything. When are people and the laws going to learn that it isn’t the breed it’s the owners. I’m not saying that the dog that I own will not bite somebody’s leg off if they try to come into my house and harm my children I wouldn’t want a dog who wouldn’t do this it’s safer than using a gun. a little dog and be drop kicked over a fence or across the house and it seems to be all the big dogs that are put on this list my father was a K-9 unit I was raised on German Shepherds never hurt anybody unless he was on duty and there’s been studies that the most aggressive breeds are Dachshund and chihuahuas why not put these dogs on a freaking list of dogs that aren’t allowed in a apartment complex you get more complaints on a yappy little dog then you do on a pitbull attacking somebody. People just need to use common sense and learn how to train their dog if a dog is trained not to attack unless it’s family is being threatened or harmed that will be the only time they attack and if the dog has no history of attacks or doing any harm than what the hell is the problem

lauren July 10, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Before anybody bashes a pitbull why don’t you look up the history of the animal and find out what they were originally provided for they were bred to be nanny dogs to look after children if a dog has sat there being nothing but abused yeah it’s going to be aggressive a person is the same way they get pushed enough they’re going to fight back

Jessica August 1, 2017 at 8:51 pm

Exactly! Pitbulls are extremely loving and I wouldn’t want a dog that wouldn’t protect me & my family! I feel for soldiers that have PTSD but they’re not the only ones. I was almost killed by a man that broke down my door a few years ago and fought for my life for over 2 hours. 17 stabs later & being strangled til I was unconscious, I was rescued. I hadn’t slept in my bed for over a year , on the couch to see the front door. It also took my landlord 7 months to get me a new door that properly locked. I got a Pitbull and feel safe again. Protected. But he wouldn’t hurt a fly unless I was in danger. But other people suffer from PTSD and that’s legit. Sorry you think it’s a scam but you need serious help yourself…clearly.

kat valentine September 6, 2017 at 11:23 pm

so does that mean if pit bull move in where i live in apartment i have no rights but to move because i fear for my life,i dont have any rights

Resa Dene January 11, 2018 at 2:13 pm

@Elvis Costello and JFraser, judge the individual not the label. “Pit bulls” are only a label given to a variety of bully breed/crosses. There are a small minority that are problem dogs, but on the whole they are among the best dogs that you could find. They score average temperament testing only slightly behind retrievers, they are tops! http://dogtime.com/dog-health/general/1220-american-pit-bull-terrier-temperament-dog-bites . OF COURSE the bad ones should be rooted out, also OF COURSE they can be used as service dogs, support dogs, police dogs, and all other kinds of uses – and they are. REQUIRE ADEQUATE PROOF OF TEMPERAMENT through testing, assessment, verified history- NO PROBLEM. BAN ALL BECAUSE OF YOUR EXTREME, PREJUDICED VIEWS? BIG PROBLEM, not fair at all to those of us who have pit bulls and spend hundreds of hours training them, caring for them, and making sure they are the most excellent of canine citizens and an honor to their breed. Judge each of us on our own merits.

Halle February 21, 2018 at 1:59 pm

I wanted to point out that just because there is a local breed ban, does NOT mean that they don’t have to allow the dog. They still have to allow the dog to reside with them (if an emotional support animal with a doctors note) because of the Fair Housing Act, which allows no discrimination of breed, size and weight of the assistance animal. The city has to allow it, because if they don’t they are violating the FHAct. The Federal Law is the Supreme Law of the Land (Supremacy Clause, Article VI Clause 2) and takes precedence over state law or city ordinances.

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