A Los Angeles landlord has agreed to pay a local fair housing agency $15,000 and undergo anti-discrimination training after denying companion animal requests. The fair housing agency sent six testers to the properties to pose as rental applicants with disabilities who need companion animals. Leasing employees failed the tests — by rejecting every request.
Companion animal requests can be a challenge for landlords, in large part because they fear the requests are fraudulent, designed to conceal an unauthorized pet or to avoid paying pet deposits and fees.
But landlords who reject legitimate requests can be prosecuted for discrimination, a costly misstep.
To avoid this income loss, landlords should anticipate companion animals, and adopt a policy for processing these requests. A landlord attorney or fair housing office can offer specific advice.
In general, a landlord must accept a companion animal if the tenant suffers from a disability and has been prescribed the animal to assist with the disability. Companion or emotional support animals do not need to be trained as service animals, and the prescription for the animal can come from any health care provider. Landlords are entitled to only enough information to process the complaint: proof that the tenant has a disability and has been prescribed the animal.
Common mistakes with companion animal requests can be avoided. For instance, a landlord CANNOT:
Apply a no-pets policy restriction to companion animals or adopt a blanket ban on all animals;
Treat the companion animal as a pet and charge higher rent, pet rent, pet deposits or higher security deposits;
Restrict the tenant with a companion animal to specific “pet units” or limit where the animal can be present at the property;
Demand that the tenant see a licensed physician or the physician of the landlord’s choosing;
Suggest that the tenant choose a different animal, breed, or species; or
Intimidate the tenant or ask intrusive questions about the tenant’s disability, such as demanding to review the tenant’s medical files.
Companion animal rules may apply to the tenant’s children or other family members, and to persons visiting the tenant. A landlord can enforce health or safety regulations, like requiring that the tenant take responsibility for cleaning up waste. Exceptions may apply if the request creates an undue burden on the landlord, like significantly increasing a landlord’s costs or forcing the landlord to break the law. However, what constitutes an undue burden is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and landlords must be prepared to defend their actions.
For more on companion animal rules, see our post, Companion Animal Q & A.
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 is 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.