Service Animals and Rental Properties

There’s no denying it: pets can cause serious damage to a home or apartment. That’s why so many landlords opt not to allow animals in their rentals. While wear and tear is to be expected from virtually any tenant, pets present unique challenges for anyone hoping to keep a property pristine.
As service animals are becoming more common, though, landlords and property managers need to be aware of the legalities surrounding such pets. Tenant requests for service animals are increasing every year, and folks in the rental community need to stay abreast of the local laws regarding such pets. Scott Safadi of Cal Bay Property Management recommends brushing up on your knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
It helps to understand the three different kinds of service animals. There are service dogs, which are covered under the ADA. These dogs are allowed into public establishments and may live with their disabled owners even in rentals that do not allow pets. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, are not protected under ADA and serve primarily as emotional support for the patient. Property owners are not required to allow therapy dogs to live in their rental. Emotional support dogs are also not covered under the ADA. They provide companionship to their owners and should be allowed to live in properties even if a no pets policy is in place.
Landlords must offer reasonable accommodations to people living with disabilities. To qualify, the tenant must have a physical or mental impairment that limits their activity in some way. They should have a history of their impairment and be regarded as having the impairment. The range of impairments and disabilities is wide, but landlords should not feel as though they need to be experts on the issue. An attorney can help clarify any questions they might have about their tenant’s rights.
Keep in mind that landlords may not charge a pet deposit or pet fee for service animals living on their property. The tenant can be held liable for any damage done by the pet, though. Make this clear to the tenant before they move in and you’ll likely avoid any real problems.
It’s not always easy understanding the unique needs of tenants, but handling requests with compassion and empathy are critical. Patience goes a long way in dealing with service animals and the people who rely upon them.
– Scott Safadi, Cal Bay Property Management