Dogs are pets except when they’re service animals. Cats are pets except when they’re emotional support animals or therapy animals.
If you’re renting out a property in the Champaign-Urbana rental market or anywhere in the U.S., it’s important to understand the housing laws that protect people with disabilities. It’s easy to make an expensive mistake by telling prospective or current tenants that pets aren’t allowed in your property under any circumstances. You have the right to your own no-pet policy. But, if that tenant has a service or support animal, it ceases to be a pet, and you legally have to allow it.
Federal Laws and Service Animals
When we’re talking about pets and service animals, there are two specific laws that govern how you treat tenants and applicants with disabilities. These are the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Both of these laws protect people with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities against discrimination. You cannot deny an otherwise qualified tenant from renting your home because she has a wheelchair. The same laws say you cannot discriminate against an otherwise qualified tenant from renting your home because he has a service animal.
Service Animals are Accommodations
These laws require landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities who need housing. This might mean shower bars or wider doorways or a dedicated parking space that’s closer to the building. It might also mean allowing a dog or a cat or some other animal to move into the property even if you don’t allow pets.
The service animal is seen as an accommodation, not as a pet. Therefore, not only do you have to allow it; you also cannot charge a pet deposit, pet fee, or pet rent.
Service Animal Requirements and Restrictions
When the tenant has an obvious physical or intellectual disability, you cannot ask what the service animal is for. A person who is blind should not have to explain her need for a Seeing Eye Dog. However, you can ask for documentation if the disability is not immediately apparent. The tenant with an emotional support animal, for example, can be expected to supply documentation from a medical professional explaining the disability and why the animal is required. Always be careful here. Asking for documentation is one thing; being abrasive and expressing doubt that a service or support animal is needed can get you in trouble.
The tenant is still required to clean up after the animal and ensure it isn’t a nuisance to other tenants or the property. You can appeal to deny a tenant’s service or support animal if you can prove it would cause you financial harm or put people in danger. This is difficult to do.
Navigating the pet versus service animal landscape is not always easy. The fair housing and ADA laws are strict, and violating them comes with huge penalties. We advise caution and education.
We’d be happy to tell you more about Champaign-Urbana property management and how we can help. Contact us at Ramshaw Real Estate for more information and extra protection against mistakes with fair housing, pets, and service animals.