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Landlords and property managers usually enforce pet policies for the properties they rent. However, Fair Housing Laws may require property owners to provide reasonable accommodations for tenants who are disabled, and this includes service animals. Since a service animal is not considered a "pet," they are not restricted by common pet rules.

Are landlords allowed to ask for service dog papers?

Yes, and no. They can ask for proof that the service animal is "prescribed" by a medical professional. This is true for any type of disability. In most cases, the tenant will provide a letter from their doctor stating that they have a disability that benefits from a service animal. Tenants asking for accommodations for their emotional support animal can be asked to provide a letter from their therapist or mental health care provider. Landlords cannot, however, inquire about the tenant's specific disability or diagnosis. Medical details are protected information.

Can a landlord charge pet rent for a service animal?

No, they cannot. They also cannot charge a pet deposit. They can charge a reasonable rate for damage to the property caused by the animal. They can also take steps to evict an animal that is not properly trained or if it is disturbing other tenants, is aggressive or destructive. If you are a property manager, you may benefit from speaking to a lawyer who specializes in tenant laws in your area to make sure you follow the proper procedures for evicting a service animal.

Who is excluded from providing reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act?

Not all landlords are required to provide "reasonable accommodations" for those with disabilities. While they may choose to provide accommodations for disabled tenants, landlords usually are not required to provide accommodations if:

They rent four units or less and they live in one of the units. For example, if they own a tri-plex and live in a unit while renting out the other two, they generally do not need to provide accommodations.

They are renting a single-family home without using a broker. If they are leasing a few single-family homes and do not use a real estate broker or service, they generally do not have to provide accommodations.

They own a hotel or motel. Hotels and motels are not considered dwellings or homes, so they generally are not required to accommodate. However, if you are an owner that provides long-term rental options, you may want to consult with a lawyer to see if the law applies.

Private clubs. If they own a private club that is not available to the general public, they do not need to provide accommodations.

What's the difference between service dogs, companion animals and therapy animals?

It is important to know the difference between different kinds of support animals. Generally, service dogs (and in some cases miniature horses) are what we typically imagine as service animals. These service animals offer support to people with physical or mental disabilities including those who are blind or deaf, or other. Companion or emotional support animals provide support for those with mental or emotional issues such as depression or anxiety. Therapy animals are those that you see brought to care homes or hospitals to provide support to the residents or patients.

One of the biggest differences between service dogs and other types of support animals is that service dogs are required to go through an extensive one to two years of service animal training. Landlords rarely have issues with service animals since they are well-trained. Emotional support (or companion) animals are not required to be trained. However, in most instances, you cannot refuse rental to those who utilize emotional support animals. Therapy animals are not usually included since they provide support to others as a service and not necessarily for the renter.

Can landlords enforce breed restrictions?

No, they cannot. Many local rental laws now restrict landlords from breed discrimination as well. Service dogs can be any size or any breed. If a property manager has a dog weight limit of 30 pounds, they cannot apply that restriction to service dogs.

Controversies involving "fake" emotional support animals

"Fake" support animals have been making the news lately. Since business owners or staff (of restaurants or retail stores) are not allowed to ask for an animal's paperwork, some dishonest people have used this loophole to bring their pets into businesses with or without fake service animal vests. However, unlike restaurant owners, property managers can ask for a letter from the renter's doctor or therapist. They can also contact the medical professional to verify that they wrote the letter. Again, they cannot ask specifics about their disability and they should not ask questions in a way that appears discriminatory.

We provide a wide range of legal documents for landlords. See our landlord help center to access Lease Agreements, Eviction Notices, Pet Addendums, and more documents for tenant screening and property management.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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