LANDLORDS VS PETS
Are you a landlord and do you LIKE having pets in your units? If not, and if you have a "NO PET" policy, you may want to read this post.
I am a landlord, I don't want pets in my units. The main reason for this is because I know what pets do to a house, I have had pets, cats and dogs, good pets, who destroyed things, who pee on things, who poop and barf when I’m not looking! I taught them better than that, but alas, they are ANIMALS! As a new landlord I had been told by what I thought were reliable sources that if you have a "NO PET POLICY" you simply won't have to allow pets in your house…ever. Then I heard a question about Service Animals. One way was suggested to get around having to have these animals in your units was to simply change your “Pet” policy to read "NO ANIMALS POLICY." Service Animals are, after all, animals and you don’t allow animals.
Then, one day, while reading Facebook, one of my daughters posted that she wanted a puppy. She lives in New York City and most of the places she has lived have all had strict "NO PET" policies. She was planning a move, but I told her that finding an apartment that would allow a pet would be next to impossible and reminded her that she couldn't afford to pay extra just because she wanted a pet. (I suggested that she become a dog-sitter on the weekends so that she could get lots of puppy time, but NOT own a pet.)
But then, one of her girlfriends commented on the post: "You can just write off to one of those websites that will give you a certificate stating that you have an Emotional Support Dog and any Landlord will be required to allow the pet to live with you.
This freaked me out as a landlord!
So, at that time I began to do extensive research on the topic. I’m a bit OCD that way.
This is what I have learned (so far) and I'll try to be brief, though, if you've read any of my posts, you know they aren't. Sorry.
There are two kinds of animals you MUST admit to your rental units (unless you own 3 or fewer single family homes or own only a 4-plex and live in one of them). These are Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals. These two types of animals serve different needs for their owners and have different levels of accommodation as it relates to you, the landlord. Service Animals are the easiest to recognize, but Emotional Support Animals are becoming more and more widely used forcing you, the landlord, to accommodate them as well. Here’s how to recognize the difference and what you as a landlord need to do when asked to house one of these types of animals.
- Service Animals are trained to do specific tasks for a disabled individual. The disability may be physical or mental. (Seeing Eye Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Epileptic Seizure Alert Animal, etc.)
- Sometimes a Service Animal might be a Miniature Horse, but Service Animals are not Cats, Ferrets, Monkeys, etc.
- These animals often cost between $17,000 and $22,000 EACH!
- These animals are NOT pets, they are considered by the ADA and HUD as "Necessary Medical Equipment" not actually animals.
- Service Animals are allowed to go anywhere the public is allowed to go: Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Hospitals, etc. However, they are not allowed to go where the general public is not allowed to go, such as in a restaurant's kitchen...unless the disabled person WORKS there.These animals are allowed to go anywhere at work a disabled employee with the Service Animal needs to go.
LANDLORDS and SERVICE ANIMALS:
- Landlords are allowed to ask ONLY 2 questions when presented with a prospective tenant who says they have a Service Animal, or a current tenant who acquires a Service Animal:
- Is this a Service Animal? (yes or no)
- What TASK has this animal been trained to do for you?
- You may NOT ask "what disability do you have requiring you to have a Service animal”! That is personal medical information that does not have to be disclosed to you.
- You may NOT charge extra rent or extra "security deposits" for the animal.
- These animals do not have any type of ID or License other than regular shots/vaccinations from the vet (which you can request to see).
- You cannot discriminate because of the breed of the dog even if your insurance company has said they don't want "viscous breeds" in your rent house, such as Pit Bulls, Dobermans, Rottweilers, etc. Each animal must be judged on a case by case basis. Remember these animals have had roughly $20,000 worth of training. Do you think they are going to attack you? Really? If your pet went through this much training, do you really think they are going to chew up the baseboards? Possibly, but probably not.If the dog presented happens to be on the “bad dog” list of your insurance company, you may want to call your insurance provider and have a discussion.You may want your insurance provider to write a letter excusing this animal from the “bad dog” list because it is a service animal and the insurance carrier doesn’t want the ADA on their backs, so I’m sure they will be able to come up with some sort of agreement with you with regards to this animal.
- You CAN, however, require that the tenant PAY for any damages to your unit caused by the Animal (or the tenant) but not charge these monies up front, only after the fact if there is additional damage.
- You CAN evict a tenant IF their animal becomes a nuisance:
- excessive barking which annoys the neighbors repeatedly; or
- the dog attacks other animals in your complex (for example, you allow up to 20 lb animals, but this is an 80 lb German Shepherd who attacks other animals)
- the handler/owner does not keep the animal under control when in public areas or does not clean up after the animal or follow the pet policy you have in place (allows the pet to poop on the playground rather than in a pet friendly area). The Owner/Handler is to clean up after their animal.There is no excuse for not cleaning up dog hairs or poop left behind in common areas by even a Service Animal.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS (Assistance Animals) “ESA”
These are NOT SERVICE ANIMALS. These are, many times, formerly a pet that has been “promoted” to the position of Emotional Support Animal. These ESAs are prescribed by a Medical Professional, Mental Health Professional or Social Worker for some sort of emotional need. Many people with conditions such as PTSD, Epilepsy, or Autism may find the help of an Emotional Support Animal to be a great comfort and a calming effect when their emotions get out of control.
- An ESA is NOT trained to do specific tasks for the individual and these animals may even be rescued animals from an animal shelter.
- Many ESAs are generally regular pets that have been promoted to an ESA position because of their owner's current mental or physical condition
- To have an ESA, the tenant's physician or social worker will write a prescription for the animal. This letter only helps for Housing and Airplanes.
- An individual may have more than one ESA, but should have a prescription for each.
- An ESA does not have to be a dog, it may be a cat, snake, goat, etc.
- If you have "PET or ANIMAL" policies for your rental units, the owner of the ESA is required to follow these policies, such as no animals in the pool area, this animal is not allowed to go into the pool area (Service Animals, on the other hand, are allowed to go anywhere their owner is allowed to go). ESA can go outside in approved areas (if you have pet zones) and inside the house and anywhere else pets are allowed to go on your property.
- You may NOT charge an extra security deposit for the animal(s)
- You may NOT charge extra rent for the animal(s)
- You MAY charge the tenant for all damages
- You MAY evict if the animal becomes a nuisance to other neighbors, or threatens other tenants/workers. You may also evict this tenant if they cannot (or will not) control their animal(s)
AS A LANDLORD, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN FACED WITH THESE ANIMALS:
If someone wishes to have a Service Animals or ESA move into one of your unit, they must do the following:
- For both types of animals, the tenant must make a written request of you requesting "Reasonable Accommodations" for their animal to be allowed to live in the unit, (be it a Service Animal or ESA). Their Doctor/Therapist will have told them this.There are easy to find websites with sample letters for them to copy. If this animal is legitimately needed by the prospective tenant, they will be aware of this requirement.
- For a Service Animal, ask only the 2 questions listed above, write the answers down on your tenant's application and file with your records.
- For an ESA, you should require a copy of the tenant's "prescription" provided to them by their health care provider or social worker.
- When you ask for a copy of their "Emotional Support Animal Prescription" and if they have no idea what you are talking about, chances are, this is NOT an ESA, it's the family pet and THIS person is probably "impersonating a disabled person", which is a crime!
- There are websites that WILL let you fill out a questionnaire online to help determine whether or not you might need an emotional support animal. If the answers you provide seem to be worthy, for a FEE, a mental health worker, probably in some other state, will call you and interview you. If they believe you could benefit from an ESA, they will give you a letter stating such. While this may be perfectly legal to do, and landlords will need to allow the animal to live in their unit even though they don't normally allow pets, consider this; is this person getting the mental health care that they really need? No! BUT, you better not discriminate if they have this letter because if it really is legit, you wouldn't want a discrimination law suit brought against you by the ADA or HUD. Better safe than sorry in this case.
THE GOOD NEWS:
All of your other rental criteria for tenants should be met apart from the animal issue. YOU MUST HAVE WRITTEN CRITERIA:
- If they don't make enough money, (verifiable income should equal 3X rent), they don't qualify.
- If they have terrible credit, or have a criminal background that is undesirable, you are not obligated to rent to this candidate.
- If they don’t get a good review from past landlords (YOU MUST CALL THEM) they don’t qualify.
- If you don’t rent to people who move every year (longevity of tenancy), and these tenants have moved every year for the past 10 years, don’t rent to them!
- Because you have written criteria for prospective tenants, if this applicant doesn’t qualify, your denial letter should have a valid reason for denial, which cannot be related to a Service Animal or ESA.
- You must treat all tenant applicants equally, so make sure you have written policies and are following the policy you (your company) has set forth.
- In your written policies, you should have a statement such as: “in selecting a tenant, we don’t accept the FIRST applicant, we select the BEST qualified applicant”. If the prospective tenant is NOT the best applicant, you aren’t denying the Service Animal or the ESA, you are simply selecting the best applicant.
© Copyright 2017: Janne Zaccagnino