NO PETS ALLOWED?
BE CAREFUL ~ FAIR HOUSING LAWS MAY REQUIRE YOU TO ALLOW A PET.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability among other things. This short article discusses only the issue of assistive animals. If a tenant or potential tenant is disabled and claims that they require an assistive animal, a landlord must be careful not to violate the Fair Housing Act by denying them the ability to have a pet in the rental property EVEN IF they have a No Pet Policy.
Assistive animals are also referred to as therapy animals, service animals or companion animals.
Let’s break this down.
1. Does the Fair Housing Act apply to me?
If you are renting or selling dwelling units it is likely to apply to you. There are some exceptions. In general, the exceptions include an owner-occupied building with four or fewer dwelling units or a landlord that is not “in the business of selling or renting dwellings”. If you own three or more single family homes, you are in the business of selling or renting dwellings. If you want a more detailed explanation of the exceptions, go the Department of Justice website: http://www.justice.gov/crt//about/hce/title8.php There is much more to the Fair Housing Act but we will just discuss the pet issue for this blog.
2. Who is considered disabled or handicapped?
The Act defines a person with a handicap or disability to include a) individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; b) individuals who are regarded as having such impairment; and c) individuals with a record of such impairment.1
This is a broad definition which does not only apply to those with obvious disabilities such as blindness or being wheelchair bound. This can also pertain to people with disabilities that are not quite so apparent, such as epilepsy, heart disease or emotional illnesses.
3. Why can’t I say no if I have a No Pet Policy?
If a disabled person claims they need a pet due to their disability, then you must consider making what is called a “reasonable accommodation”. This would be an exception to a policy, rule or practice in order to accommodate someone with a disability. Just as you must allow reasonable modifications such as allowing the installation of grab bars for someone in a wheelchair, a reasonable accommodation of allowing a pet for a disabled person who needs one would be similar.
If you automatically so no without any consideration of the circumstances you may be violating Fair Housing law by discriminating against someone with a disability.
4. How do I know if they really need a pet?
A housing provider is allowed to obtain verification of the need for a pet. This must be done carefully. It is against the law to ask about the nature or severity of a disability. If the disability is obvious, the verification should be obvious. A tenant who is blind and using an assistive animal when they apply for housing shouldn’t need to provide you proof of their blindness or need for the animal.
You may request information that: a) can verify the applicant or tenant meets the definition of being disabled; b) explains the accommodation needed (reason for the pet); and c) shows the relationship between the disability and the requested accommodation. 2
5. Can I charge a special pet deposit if I allow this accommodation?
No, you may not. You may charge for damages that have been caused by the pet but you cannot require a pet deposit in anticipation of the damages. You are also allowed to require that the pet meet vaccination requirements, be cared for properly and not be a disturbance to other tenants.
This is a simplified explanation of the Fair Housing Act as applied to pets. It is not meant as legal advice. For more information concerning the Fair housing Act, please visit the following:
1Dept of Justice: http://www.justice.gov/crt//about/hce/title8.php
Dept of Housing & Urban Development: hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/FHLaws