If there is one topic that tends to divide landlords and tenants and pit them against each other, it might just be pet ownership. Most people like pets and animals, including landlords. However, landlords may not like the unmitigated damage an animal could do to their property if a tenant isn’t responsible.
Since landlords have no way to micromanage how their tenants treat their pets, many of them choose to just have a wholesale prohibition on animal ownership in their units. Clauses excluding pet ownership, limiting tenants to certain species or sizes of animals or prohibiting certain breeds are common restrictions in leases.
Unfortunately, tenants will sometimes attempt to get around these protective clauses by claiming a pet as an emotional support animal or even as a service animal. What can a landlord do when an animal in their unit violates the terms of the lease but the tenant claims it’s a support animal?
You have a right to inquire about whether or not they have a disability
People have the right to privacy regarding their medical circumstances, but they also have an obligation to provide certain information to others if they want to assert rights based on their protected medical status.
If a tenant claims they have an emotional support animal and a disability is not readily apparent, you have the right to inquire if they have a disability and to request documentation regarding the disability. The tenant does not have to provide you with details regarding the disability, such as a specific diagnosis. However, they do have to give you some form of medical verification that they have a condition that constitutes a disability.
Can the tenant claim the animal is necessary for them to live in your unit?
Landlords have a legal obligation to accommodate disabled tenants who need reasonable accommodations. Allowing service and emotional support animals is one of the ways a landlord should attempt to accommodate a tenant with a disability. Not only must they accept service and support animals, but they cannot assess the same fees they might charge tenants for pets regarding those animals.
However, in order for the tenant to compel a landlord to allow an animal or waive pet fees, they must be able to make a credible claim that they require the animal to live in the unit. For example, the animal might assist them with retrieving dropped items if they have a physical disability or might calm them if noises from a neighboring unit trigger their post-traumatic stress disorder and result in emotional issues.
Disputes about emotional support and service animals are complex. They often require careful review and a delicate approach to ensure that landlords do not accidentally violate the rights of a tenant with a true disability and a legitimate claim to an assistance animal.