There’s a lot of controversy lately regarding the handling of applicants and tenants who require service/companion animals. The increase in request from new and existing tenants seems to have skyrocketed and many landlords are still confused about the qualification process and laws surrounding this hot button issue.
Landlords can charge pet fees or require pet deposits for service animals.
Incorrect. Landlords may not require applicants or residents to pay a pet fee or deposit for a service dog, psychiatric service dog, or support animal. State & Federal law indicate that service animals are not classified as “Pets” and therefor are protected under Fair Housing laws. If the animal damages the property, the owner can deduct the repair cost from the security deposit in accordance with California security deposit deduction requirements.
Myth # 2
Landlords can ask for proof of disability from the tenant.
Correct, but tread lightly. In the absence of an obvious disability or need for a service animal the law allows landlords to inquire about the disability or need for a service animal related to that disability. The applicant or tenant is then required to supply the landlord acceptable documentation from a health care provider related to the need of the service animal for their disability. In the presence of an obvious disability or need for a service animal no proof is required.
All a tenant needs is a service animal certificate to prove a disability.
Incorrect. It’s very common for applicants or tenants to offer to provide an online “certificate” or similar documentation to support the legitimacy of their service animal. These documents are easily available online for purchase and in most cases don’t require the recipient to supply any medical information regarding their disability or need for a service animal. The documents are without merit and typically signal a red flag that someone is trying to gain the system. The law does not require the animal to be “certified” or “registered” (no requirement under Fair Housing Laws) but rather the individual in need of the service animal should be able to prove a disability and need for the disability related service animal.
Accepted forms of verification established by Housing & Urban Development (HUD)
- a doctor or other health care professional; or
- a peer support group (Category not defined but it is reasonable to believe that it may mean Alcoholics Anonymous or similar organizations); or
- a non-medical service agency (perhaps groups like the MS Society or the Braille Institute); or
- a reliable third party in a position to know about the person’s disability and needs (examples might be a case manager or a caregiver); or
- “self-verification” (for instance, proof of receipt of Social Security Disability Income would suffice as self-verification of a disability…although additional verification of the disability-related need might still be necessary).
In conclusion it’s important to understand and respect the rights and needs of tenants with disabilities. Individuals requiring the need for a service related animal are protected under local, state & federal laws. Having a general understanding of these laws and seeking legal advice or counsel are highly recommended when handling an applicant or tenant who requires special circumstances regarding the need for a service related animal.
In full disclosure, this article is not intended as legal advice. Please check your local and state laws.
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Written by Salvatore Friscia, owner of San Diego Premier Property Management a full service residential property management company offering Worry Free property management to the greater San Diego area since 2004 and TenantFinder.com.