Under Fair Housing Regulations, if a tenant requests a reasonable accommodation for a disability or covered condition, the landlord must consider and allow a reasonable accommodation. The most frequent request landlords receive is for an animal, either an emotional support animal or a service animal. If an animal qualifies as either an emotional support animal or service animal you may not charge the tenant pet rent, a pet deposit or disallow the animal in the unit. The animal is not considered a pet and the pet provisions and requirements you may have in place for a pet do not apply. (This includes breed restrictions and weight limits.) The tenant does, of course, remain responsible for any damage the animal may cause and that could be deducted from a regular security deposit. Again, no pet deposit can be required for an assistive/emotional support animal.
Animals fall into two categories under Fair Housing. Emotional support animals do not have any special or unique training. They simply provide emotional support for their owner. In some cases a tenant may require multiple emotional support animals; however, this is not an unlimited open ended license to have animals in the unit. You may require (and we recommend you require) the tenant to provide documentation from a health care provider indicating the need for the emotional support animal. If the tenant claims multiple emotional support animals are needed, you can request documentation indicating multiple animals are needed as well as documentation indicating the multiple animals fill different needs. A medical professional includes doctors, nurses, and therapists who may address physical and mental impairments suffered by a tenant.
A service animal is trained to provide or conduct a service for the tenant. This can be a guide dog for a blind tenant, an animal trained to assist a former solider with PTSD and keep other individuals at distance from the tenant, or an animal that can fetch items for a physically disabled tenant. Again, the tenant can be required (and we recommend you require this information) to provide documentation from a health care provider regarding the need for the service animal. A tenant may require multiple animals to provide different services for the tenant. However, this is not an open invitation to bring animals into the unit.
The word reasonable is critical in the accommodation request by the tenant. HUD has come out with some guidance in the last couple of years regarding what animals can be service or emotional support animals, eliminating the argument that a peacock is an appropriate service animal. A reasonable accommodation does not allow a tenant to violate laws or local ordinances, including leash laws, and when it comes to number of animals 10 Great Danes in a studio apartment is not reasonable.
As with so many legal issues, each case is unique and requires its own unique consideration of the circumstances and needs. It is important to remember when a tenant makes a request for a reasonable accommodation that it is first addressed in a timely manner, and that the landlord work with the tenant to come to a possible resolution with regard to a reasonable accommodation. Again, the most common request relates to animals, and we strongly encourage all landlords to require documentation from a medical professional regarding the need for the animal.