There appears to be more people in the U.S. who live with a pet than ever before. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is carefully looking into this topic as it pertains to renters. In fact, HUD has already published an 8 page guide titled Resident Rights that every property manager should become familiar with. You’ll be hard pressed to find any mention about the right to have pets. On page 7 is a list of resource phone numbers for a number of services and ways to verify information on the rights and responsibilities of residents from a federal government perspective. Check it out too!
The latest challenge between Property Managers and residents regarding pets involve the categories of “service,” “companion” and “therapy” animals. Service, companion or emotional support animals fall within the definition of assistance animals under the Housing and Urban Development’s guidelines. Like it or not these guidelines are also adopted in many states in defining the rights of tenants and residents. The legalities and the responsibility to make “reasonable accommodation” are daunting.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Department of Justice narrowed the definition of a service animal as “… as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
However, a housing provider [landlord] “… may not ask a tenant or applicant to provide documentation showing the disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal if the disability or disability-related need is readily apparent or already known to the provider.”
In some situations a “housing provider” may ask for verification, but any questions should be limited to a relevant connection between the resident’s disability and the disability-related need for the animal. Some residential rental complexes that allow pets have received legal advice to create a separate set of rules for assistance animals, since they will probably have more access to common areas than other pets.
Make sure you clearly communicate to assistance animal owners that if they allow animals to roam off-leash, don’t pick up their animals’ droppings, or allow their pet to be aggressive or a chronic barker that these are consequential violations. It may also be necessary to give a fair warning ahead of time.
Inform the owner if the animal’s behavior doesn’t improve after the warning it will have to be removed, but make sure that your state and local laws allow this type of remedial action. You may need legal advice. My research indicates that even if you have the right to insist that the animal be removed, a replacement animal may need to be allowed. It makes sense to insist that the animal not be allowed outside without a leash or that it be a dog that doesn’t bark continually.
The bottom line is to know the laws, make your resident policies explicit, and know the rights of your owners as well as your own as a property manager.