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A Landlord’s Ultimate Guide to Support Animals

Young Woman Being Comforted by her Emotional Support AnimalOne significant choice that all Columbia rental property owners have to make is whether or not they are going to permit their tenants to have pets on the property or not. However, even if you have a no-pet policy for your rental homes, that policy doesn’t include support animals. Because of the Fair Housing Act, a tenant, under certain circumstances, can be allowed to keep an animal on the property, regardless of your pet policy. There are, however, exceptions to this. Take some time to acquaint yourself with the federal laws, and if they apply to you. This can be useful, especially when you have to reasonably deny a tenant’s request.

The Fair Housing Act and Support Animals

In general, the Fair Housing Act is a set of laws intended to prevent discrimination against tenants who belong to a protected class. This includes tenants who rely on support animals for either emotional or physical assistance. A significant feature of the Fair Housing Act is that it classifies these animals differently from pets. So your no-pet policy usually isn’t a legal reason to deny a tenant’s request to keep a support animal on the property.

There are two basic types of support animals. Service animals are animals trained to perform specific tasks. A good example of a service animal would be a guide dog — one that has been trained to provide assistance to a person with impaired vision. The other type of support animal is assistance or emotional support animal. These animals, though, don’t need specific training for tasks — unlike service animals. An emotional support animal supplies a unique set of benefits to its owners. Like a cat that helps ease a person’s depression and anxiety, or a bird that signals a deaf person when someone is at the door.

When the Law Applies to You – And When It Doesn’t

For the most part, federal law states that property owners cannot deny a tenant’s request to keep either a service animal or an emotional support animal in their rental home. You are restricted from charging your tenant a pet deposit or additional rent. The tenant must furnish documentation of the support their animal offers. This could be either a service animal certification or a letter from a medical or mental health professional describing the need for the support animal.

However, there are exceptions to this, as well. The first is the property type. If your rental property is owner-occupied or is owned by a private organization for the benefit of its members, the support animal rule does not apply. The FHA doesn’t apply if you own less than three single-family houses and manage them by yourself.

Other possible exceptions to federal law include dangerous animals or denial of insurance. Another ground for denying a request is if you can prove that the animal of the tenant is a direct threat to the safety of others on the property. Legally, though, you cannot deny a request based on the animal’s breed or size. Also, your insurance carrier can be a likely exemption. If your insurance provider declines you a landlord insurance policy or costs excessive amounts to permit the support animal on the property, you might successfully argue that you are unable to grant the tenant’s request reasonably.

Support animals and their owners have specific legal protections that you must comprehend as a Columbia rental property owner. The federal law has a lot of subtleties; hence, take the initiative to be properly informed. This is key to handling a tenant’s request for a support animal on the property. If learning the different property management laws is such a daunting task for you, why not hire a company that is already well-versed in this aspect of the law? Contact us today to learn how we can make your life easier as a rental property owner.

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.

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