Goodspeed: Assistance animals are not pets for renters and condo owners
QUESTION: I own an apartment building and have a policy of no pets. A potential tenant told me he has a dog that he needs for his “comfort.” Do I have to accept him?
ANSWER: Having just gotten a seeing eye dog this question is close to my heart. There are two main categories of assistance animals: Service animals and companion animals, also known as comfort or emotional support animals. Service animals are specially trained by professionals to provide a service to the owner, such as guiding a blind person or alerting a deaf person to alarms and other noises, etc.
Companion or comfort animals provide companionship or comfort to the owner. For example, the owner might be depressed or have an anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder and is comforted by having the animal close by.
An assistance animal is not a pet. The animal works, helps or does tasks to benefit an owner with a disability or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more symptoms of a person’s disability.
As a landlord with a no pets policy, you should ask a potential tenant who has an animal and wants to rent from you two questions: Does the person have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity? And does the person have a related need for an animal? If the answer is no to each question, you do not have to accept the person as a tenant. But if the answer is yes, you have to determine if the animal is a service animal. If so, you must allow the animal in the building. There are three exceptions:
- An animal out of control and an owner who takes no action to control him.
- An animal not house broken.
- An animal that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated or reduced.
A whole industry has sprung up around the practice of pet owners paying money to get a “certificate” stating that the owner needs his/her animal for “comfort” reasons. As a landlord, you have the right to determine if the request is legit.
While you cannot ask the tenant for his/her medical records, you can ask the tenant to supply a letter from his/her local medical provider that supports the tenant’s need for a companion pet.
Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and out of Darkness.” Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.