Service animals are big these days, from pot bellied pigs to barnyard fowls to standard seeing-eye dogs, and this puts landlords in a quandary. Many property owners err on the side of caution and allow tenants with even questionable documentation to refer to certain pets as service animals in order to get around no-pet policies that many rentals have in place. However, property owners and managers do have some legal protections regarding service animals. For instance, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) only recognizes service animals as dogs that have been specially trained to perform services directly related to the disability experienced by the individual.
Furthermore, service animals must be under the control of the individual with the disability at all times, meaning that it must be either harnessed or under voice or hand signal control at all times. Sanitary provisions must be made by the tenant for the service dog to urinate and defecate in appropriate locations and for the waste to be cleaned up immediately. Landlords have the right to refuse to allow service dogs to remain on the property in the event they show aggression toward other tenants or visitors or become a nuisance through behaviors such as incessant barking. Emotional support animals do not qualify as service dogs. However, the ADA has a separate provision regarding miniature horses.
Landlords have the right to ask prospective tenants two specific questions regarding his or her service dog: what the animal has been trained to do and if the animal is required as a direct result of a disability. Property owners and managers may not ask specific questions about the person’s disability or ask for documentation regarding details of the dog’s training, and they also may not ask for a pet deposit for a service dog.
While these dogs provide legitimate assistance to those with disabilities, property owners sometimes encounter those who purchase false certifications online as well as buy orange vests designating the animal as a service animal. To complicate things further, state, county, and municipal laws concerning this matter vary dramatically and change as new laws are enacted. Landlords can make certain that they’re within all federal, state, and local guidelines concerning renting to those with service animals by having an attorney review their documents. Landlords should also use a professional tenant screening service with staff who is knowledgeable about current applicable laws.