How to Handle Companion Animal Requests

 If you haven’t already dealt with a tenant’s request for a companion or emotional support animal, you will. Mistakes may trigger a housing discrimination complaint, so make sure you have a property management policy in place for handling these requests.

What Landlords Can Do

Landlords are allowed to verify that the request for a companion animal is legitimate — but be cautious! All a landlord is allowed to do is confirm that the tenant suffers from a disability, and that a health provider has prescribed the animal as treatment. A tenant cannot be grilled about the disability, or the credentials of the health provider.

The landlord may demand that the animal be vaccinated or neutered/spayed if that is required by local law or necessary for the health and safety of other pets in the area.

The tenant will have to be responsible for cleaning up after the animal and proper disposal of pet waste.

The tenant has to keep the animal under control in the same manner required by local law.

The landlord can enforce other provisions in the lease. For example, if the animal damages the property, creates a nuisance or safety issues are occurring, the tenant with a companion animal is still subject to those rules and could be evicted.

Landlords can deduct damage from an exiting tenant’s security deposit, and if that won’t cover it, pursue the tenant to recover damages.

The landlord can limit the choice of companion animal if it is illegal to shelter that animal under local law, or if the insurance will not cover it.

What a Landlord Cannot Do

A landlord cannot:

Reject an applicant or evict a tenant because they make a companion animal request.

Charge higher rent, a pet deposit, or force the tenant into a “pets” unit.

Limit where the tenant can bring the animal within the property.

Inquire about or set limits on the animal’s level of training.

Limit what type of animal the tenant can choose as a companion. Breed-specific limitations are not allowed. In order to reject a dangerous animal, the landlord will have to show that the particular animal is a risk, rather than anticipate problems due to perceptions of the breed.

Additional Tips for Handling Companion Animal Requests

Companion animal requests should be handled promptly. Delaying or ignoring the request may be seen as denying it. Ask for the paperwork confirming the two requirements: 1) the tenant suffers from a disability, and 2) the tenant has a prescription letter from a health provider.

Work with the tenant to accommodate the request; don’t intimidate the tenant or make them feel singled-out.

When dealing with complaints from other tenants, particularly in no-pets buildings, protect the tenant with the companion animal form harassment.

Keep in mind that these the companion animal rules are fluid. Many questions about companion animals are case-specific. You may want to contact an attorney in your area, or your local housing office, if you have concerns about a specific tenant’s request.

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