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A Landlord’s Ultimate Guide to Support Animals

Young Woman Being Comforted by her Emotional Support AnimalEvery Georgetown rental property owner has to decide whether or not tenants are going to be allowed to have pets on the property. Be aware, though, that support animals aren’t part of the no-pet policy for rental homes. Regardless of your pet policy, under the Fair Housing Act, tenants can be allowed to have an animal on the property based on certain grounds. Yet, there are exceptions. When is it reasonable to deny a tenant’s request? To answer this, you have to know what the federal laws are, and if they even apply to you.

The Fair Housing Act and Support Animals

In general, the Fair Housing Act is a set of laws intended to prevent discrimination against tenants who belong to a protected class. This includes tenants who rely on support animals for either emotional or physical assistance. A specific element of the Fair Housing Act that you should be aware of is that it classifies these animals differently from pets. So your no-pet policy usually isn’t a legal reason to deny a tenant’s request to keep a support animal on the property.

There are two basic types of support animals. Service animals are animals trained to perform specific tasks. A typical example of a service animal is a guide dog that has been trained to assist a person with impaired vision. The other type of support animal is assistance or emotional support animal. Not quite the same as service animals, these support animals don’t need particular training for what they are supposed to do. But, emotional support animals offer something else to their owners — support. This could be a cat that mitigates a person’s struggle with depression and anxiety, or it could be a bird that is trained to help a deaf person know if someone is at their door.

When the Law Applies to You – And When It Doesn’t

For the most part, federal law states that property owners cannot deny a tenant’s request to keep either a service animal or an emotional support animal in their rental home. It is also not allowed for a landlord to charge the tenant for a pet deposit or additional rent. The tenant must present documentation of the support their animal offers. This could be either a service animal certification or a letter from a medical or mental health professional describing the need for the support animal.

Still, there are exceptions to this. First of all, property type. If your rental property is owner-occupied or is owned by a private organization to be used primarily by its members, the support animal rule does not apply. If you have less than three single-family houses that you manage on your own, the FHA doesn’t apply.

Other possible exceptions to federal law include dangerous animals or denial of insurance. Another instance when you can reasonably deny a request is if you prove the tenant’s animal to be a direct threat to others on the property. Legally, though, you cannot deny a request based on the animal’s breed or size. Also, your insurance carrier can be a likely exemption. If your insurance provider dismisses your landlord insurance policy or estimates excessive amounts to accept the support animal on the property, that could be a successful argument to reasonably deny the tenant’s request.

Support animals and their owners have specific legal protections that, as a Georgetown rental property owner, you must recognize. So, if you want to be able to handle a situation where a tenant requests for a support animal on the property, best to get a good handle on federal laws! If the particulars of property management laws seem to be too much for you, why not hire a company that is already well-versed in this aspect of the law? Contact us today to learn how we can make your life easier as a rental property

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.

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