Landlords Beware of the Companion Animal

Companion animalGenerally, landlords have the authority to prohibit tenants from bringing a pet onto the rental premises.  Conversely, landlords may utilize a lease provision which requires a tenant to pay a pet security deposit as well as a monthly fee to keep the pet in the rental unit. However, a situation may arise where a tenant requests to live with a companion animal as part of a treatment plan for a mental or emotional disability.

The Fair Housing Act, or FHA, is federal law that addresses reasonable accommodations for a tenant with a disability in the landlord-tenant relationship.

The need for a companion animal despite a no-pet policy is one of the more common reasonable accommodation requests. Regardless of how a companion animal is classified (e.g., assistance animal, companion animal, support animal, therapy animal), the FHA mandates that landlords must not treat said animal as a pet if the animal’s purpose is to serve a tenant’s disability. Therefore, a landlord is not legally permitted to enforce pet deposits or pet fees when dealing with a tenant who possesses a companion animal. Furthermore, a landlord may not restrict the breed, size, or weight of a companion animal unless the animal is inherently dangerous and/or has a history of problem behavior.

However, landlords have a degree of authority in dealing with companion animals. Specifically, a landlord has the right to verify that the companion animal is necessary for treatment of the tenant’s disability.  Accordingly, the landlord may request that the tenant provide written confirmation from his or her medical health provider regarding the existence of the disability and the need for the companion animal to alleviate symptoms or effects of the existing disability. Additionally, if local law obligates licensing and vaccinating domestic animals, then a landlord may require that each tenant with a companion animal provide records to ensure compliance with local law. Landlords may also request tenants with an assistance animal enter into assistance animal agreement.

The agreement typically indicates that the tenant is responsible for the companion animal’s care and waste pickup.  Moreover, the agreement should contemplate that the animal must not disturb other tenants or damage property.

For more information on companion animals in the landlord-tenant relationship, please call Telpner Peterson, LLP, today at (712) 325-9000 for legal advice to properly protect your interests.

Sources: New HUD Guidance Regarding Assistance Animals, Marley J. Eichstaedt

               U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, Section 504

   Fair Housing Act

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