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You Banned Pets in Your Rental, But What About Service Animals?

service-animal-montgomery-county-rental-propertyAs a Montgomery County rental property owner, you are entitled to implement your own pet policies.  In other words, you get to decide whether to allow your tenants to have pets while residing in your property.

But what if you have decided not to allow pets in your rental property and one of your tenants has a service animal? 

Rather than face charges of housing discrimination, you and your Montgomery County property management company should work to become educated with the federal, state, and local laws regarding service animals in rental homes.

The bottom line is this: the law states that you must allow service animals in your rental home, regardless of how you feel about pets.  Because of this law, today we will look at the different types of service animals and how this “reasonable accommodation” is bound to affect you when it comes to placing a tenant with a service animal in your investment property.

 

What is a Service Animal?

According to the Americans with Disability Act, a true service animal is defined as a dog that has been trained to assist its owner with a disability.  In addition, any tasks the dog performs must be directly related to the person’s disability.  Examples of tasks service animals may perform include:

  • Assisting owners who are blind with navigation
  • Alerting owners that are deaf of people or sounds
  • Providing non-violent protection or rescue work
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Assisting owners during a seizure
  • Retrieving items such as medicine or the phone
  • Alerting owners to allergens
  • Providing owners with physical support and stability

A service animal will have special certification that training has been completed, proper documentation identifying the animal as a service animal, and will typically wear an identification harness or collar.

But What About Companion Animals?

Companion animals, otherwise known as emotional support animals, are animals that simply provide comfort to the person they are assigned to.  And, while studies have shown that companion animals have a positive effect on people suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, since they have not been trained to perform a specific task, they are not considered “true service animals” under ADA rules and regulations.

However, this does not mean property owners like yourself can prevent companion animals from residing in your property.

 

Disabled Tenants, Service Animals, and the Law

disabled-tenants-montgomery-county-rental-propertyIn addition to the rules outlined in the ADA regarding service animals, the Fair Housing Act and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) treat both service animals and companion animals the same.  Here are the conditions that your tenant must meet in order to require you to allow the companion animal into your investment property:

  • The tenant must have a diagnosed disability that impacts major life activities
  • The tenant must have a disability-related need for the animal and the animal must fulfill those needs

So long as those two conditions are met, you are legally obligated to allow a companion animal into your rental home despite it not being a true service animal.  Even if you have a “no pets allowed” policy in the lease agreement, tenants with companion animals are allowed to have them in your rental.

Both the ADA and Fair Housing Act (FHA) have strict rules in place to prevent discrimination against tenants with disabilities that require service animals.

In fact, both statutes together maintain that property owners must provide reasonable accommodations to any tenant requiring a service or companion animal while leasing a rental home.

In order for a tenant to qualify for reasonable accommodations for their disability, including the allowance of a service animal, they must fulfill the following conditions:

  • Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, seeing, working, cleaning, dressing, and so forth)
  • Have a history of such impairments
  • Be regarded as having such impairments

Because you are limited when it comes to the information you can require your tenant to disclose, these rules and regulations become difficult to follow.  Many states have taken further action in protecting those with disabilities to ensure they receive fair housing opportunities.

 

Property Owners and Service Animals

illegal-discrimination-tenants-needing-service-animal-montgomery-county-rental-property.If a prospective tenant has a disability and requires a service or companion animal, you and your Montgomery County property management company are not allowed to discriminate against them.

Take a look at the basic guideline property owners and their property management companies must follow when it comes to allowing service or companion animals into your Montgomery County rental home:

  • Service animals are not considered pets, therefore any “pet policy” in place does not apply
  • Service animals are allowed wherever the disabled person goes, including establishments with restricted animal areas
  • Property owners cannot collect pet deposits or charge additional monthly fees for service animals
  • There are no breed restrictions or weight limits allowed
  • Property owners can request written verification from a tenant’s healthcare provider that they are disabled, but cannot ask for specifics regarding the disability
  • Property owners can request written verification from a tenant’s healthcare provider that the service animal is medically necessary
  • If a service animal is disturbing others, posing a threat, or damaging property, a property owner can write warnings or evict a tenant with a service animal
  • Any damage caused by a service animal is the responsibility of the tenant and can be deducted from the security deposit at the end of the lease term
  • Property owners can request a service animal’s health records to ensure good health and updated vaccinations

Common Problems Property Owners Face with Service Animals

Due to the restrictions in place regarding verification of both disability and service animal necessity, many property owners find themselves confused when it comes to dealing with tenants requesting reasonable accommodations for their service animal.

Below are some of the issues you may be faced with:

  • The ADA has no clear guidelines on the size, breed, or number of service animals that are allowed in rental properties
  • There are no rules regarding how a tenant chooses a service animal
  • Though training and certification is often the norm, there are no requirements surrounding training, socialization, or behavior of service animals
  • Property owners cannot question the level of training a service animal has received
  • Anyone qualified to treat a disability can prescribe a service animal, and receiving written verification is an easy process
  • Property owners cannot suggest other options for treating a specific disability to avoid a pet residing in their property

There are a few instances where you may be able to deny the presence of a service animal in your Montgomery County home.  However, you and your property management company should be very careful to avoid housing discrimination in doing so.

  • The tenant is not legally disabled and cannot prove in writing he or she is
  • The service animal will create an undue burden on the rental
  • The service animal is otherwise illegal to own in the United States or at the local level (g. it is an exotic or dangerous breed)
  • The service animal creates an undue financial burden on the property owner
  • The tenant refuses to take responsibility for the service animal while in the rental

In the end, regardless of your Montgomery County rental property’s “pet policy,” there are instances where you must legally allow pets into your home.  And, while there are some small measures when it comes to verifying the validity behind a disability claim, you must be very careful not to overstep your boundaries and discriminate against tenants with disabilities.

 

In order to avoid getting yourself into legal trouble when it comes to prospective tenants with disabilities requesting to bring a service animal into your rental property, consider employing Maryland’s leading property management company to handle that for you.

Knowledgeable in all rental property rules and regulations, at both the federal and state levels, you can rest assured Bay Management Group will not discriminate against any potential tenants.  In addition, you can feel confident that due diligence will be done in order to fully verify any prospective tenant’s disability and need for a service animal.

And that’s not all!

Bay Management Group is equipped to handle all of your property management needs from tenant placement, to lease drafting, to rent collection and eviction procedures.  Working solely in property management, Bay Management Group has what it takes to handle the daily grind when it comes to your rental property. So, contact us today and see how we can help take some of the burden off you so you can enjoy your life and the benefits of your rental property business, without all the hassle.