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A Landlord’s Ultimate Guide to Support Animals

Young Woman Being Comforted by her Emotional Support AnimalA vital decision that every South Burlington rental property owner needs to make is if tenants will be allowed to have pets on the property or not. Be aware, though, that support animals aren’t part of the no-pet policy for rental homes. A tenant can be allowed to have an animal on the property regardless of pet policy. This is possible, under certain circumstances, as provided by the Fair Housing Act. There are, however, exceptions to this. It would be wise to get a good understanding of what the federal laws are, and if they apply to you. This can inform your decision in the event of having 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 specific element of the Fair Housing Act that you should be aware of 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 typical example of a service animal is a guide dog that has been trained to assist a person with impaired vision. The other type of support animal is assistance or emotional support animal. Unlike service animals, these animals need no specific training for them to perform their role. But, emotional support animals offer something else to their owners — support. This could be a cat that mitigates a person’s struggle with depression and anxiety, or it could be a bird that is trained to help a deaf person know if someone is at their 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. The law forbids you from charging a tenant a pet deposit or additional rent. The tenant must supply 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.

Still, there are exceptions to this. The first exemption is that of 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. If you have less than three single-family houses that you manage on your own, the FHA doesn’t apply.

Other possible exceptions to federal law include dangerous animals or denial of insurance. If you can somehow prove that the tenant’s animal is a direct threat to the safety of others on the property, you should be able to deny the request. But, legally, the denial must not be based on the animal’s breed or size. One possible exemption can also be your insurance carrier. If your insurance provider rejects your landlord insurance policy or chooses to bill excessive amounts to authorize the support animal on the property, it’s possible to successfully argue that you are unable to grant the tenant’s request reasonably.

Support animals and their owners have specific legal protections that, as a South Burlington rental property owner, you must recognize. Hence, best to do your due diligence when it comes to federal law. This way, you can be prepared to handle situations where tenants request support animals 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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