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When do you have to let a tenant have an animal in your unit?

As a landlord, it is your obligation to provide safe and clean facilities for the people who rent from you. You maintain the premises and create a lease that outlines your expectations for tenants. Many landlords choose to not allow animals such as dogs or cats in their rental units because of the potential damages animals can cause.

Other landlords do allow pets, but they also charge a special pet deposit which may be non-refundable, as well as an additional fee each month, sometimes per pet. Whether you allow pets or do not allow pets, there are circumstances in which a tenant can compel you to allow an animal in your rental unit. Understanding those circumstances can help you address them appropriately.

Service and emotional support animals must be allowed

If your tenants or an applicant you have recently approved has a trained service animal or an emotional support animal and legal documentation certifying the animal's training and necessity for the tenant, you will generally need to allow the animal.

Even someone who has been a tenant for years without a pet can suddenly receive a service animal and request that you accommodate the animal. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is a form of discrimination to refuse reasonable accommodations to people with physical or mental illnesses, which includes the use of a service animal. Emotional support animals also provide critical services to people who might otherwise struggle with independent living, and as such, they have protections under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Refusing to allow a tenant to have a well-trained and properly-cared-for service animal or emotional support animal is effectively a form of discrimination. In fact, you cannot even charge your tenants with medically necessary animals the same charges you would assess against tenants who simply wanted to have a pet.

You may have options if a tenant abuses the law

The truth is that many people intentionally abuse the ADA in order to keep pets in apartments they otherwise could not or take animals into spaces where it is not appropriate for them to be. Some people will buy service animal vests for animals that have received no training. Others will buy an emotional support animal letter of recommendation from a doctor or therapist with who they and their pet have no real relationship.

It can be quite difficult to look into these situations without violating the rights of your tenants. However, a little investigation could go a long way. For example, if the dog has a branded service animal vest, you can contact the organization named on the safety vest and determine whether they trained the animal or not.

For emotional support animals, you may be able to use the internet to search for the name of the recommending professional. If you find that they advertise creating these letters for a small fee, you can very likely contest the placement of the animal in your space. If the animal is already there, you can possibly evict the pet itself.

This is a very complicated area of law, so it will probably be in your best interest to speak with an attorney as soon as possible if you find out a tenant or potential tenant wants a support or service animal in your unit against the terms of your lease.

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