This week the U.S. Justice Department announced it had settled a long-standing dispute between a tenant and her landlords over pet policies.
As a result of the settlement, the landlords will pay $25,000 to end a dispute over a $1,000 pet deposit requirement. The tenant asked for a waiver of the deposit for her emotional support dog.
The landlords refused to accept the prescribing doctor’s recommendation unless he also agreed to sign an additional form that included a declaration under penalty of perjury and a promise to defend the information provided in court, measures which violate the Fair Housing Act.
As an additional condition of the settlement, the landlords agreed to adopt a reasonable accommodation policy to handle companion animal requests, and to submit to ongoing monitoring to ensure future compliance.
Fair Housing advocates have vowed to continue to make prosecuting companion animal cases a priority, and landlords must tailor their specific property management policies to meet the needs of tenants with disabilities.
While companion animals are not to be treated as “pets”, they do remain animals, and that challenges many landlords’ long-standing leasing policies. To avoid this level of income loss, all landlords must adopt a policy that incorporates the companion animal rules and train all leasing agents and employees on the policy. Here are some rules to keep in mind:
1. When screening tenants, landlords cannot reject an applicant because the person requests a companion animal. This applies even in cases where the landlord enforces a “no-pets” policy.
2. When considering a request for companion animal, the landlord cannot demand more than proof that a health care provider is prescribing the animal for treatment of the tenant’s disability; additional requirements like those above, or questioning the qualifications of the health care provider, violate the law.
3. A landlord cannot require that the tenant choose a particular animal, or that the animal have or undergo any special training to serve as a companion. Landlords cannot inquire about the animal’s level of training. However, the tenant must keep the animal under control and must clean-up after the animal. The tenant must meet any local health and safety rules, which may include lease laws or prohibitions on exotic animals.
4. In order to provide reasonable accommodation, the landlord must waive any standard pet policies pertaining to increased rent, fees or deposits, along with other policies that restrict access to common areas of the rental property. A landlord may be able to enforce rules that reflect local health and safety laws. That must be determined on a case-by-case basis, but may include a requirement that animals be vaccinated or neutered/spayed.
If you have questions about a companion animal request, seek help first before you reject an applicant or threaten to evict a tenant over the animal. Your local HUD or fair housing office may assist you, or you may prefer to seek private legal advice. Either way, don’t allow a lack of knowledge of this complex area of law force you into costly mistakes. A pattern of discrimination based on an ill-advised companion animal policy will only increase the income loss. Develop a policy now that can survive the test of time.
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.