Landlord-tenant laws are challenging to navigate, especially when it comes to renting to people with disabilities who have service dogs. This is one of the reasons why many landlords hire property management companies to handle their properties. While you may advertise your rental unit to not allow pets, you may find yourself faced with applicants who have service dogs. Here's what you need to know.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminating against people who have disabilities. Under this law, you are not allowed to turn an applicant down based solely on their need to have a service dog live with them in your rental unit. This law requires that you make reasonable exceptions to those who have disabilities, regardless of what your policy is regarding pets.
Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities. They can come in all sizes and provide various types of needs to their owners. Someone with a disability that affects their mobility may need a service dog to help them walk. Dogs that provide this type of service are generally larger dogs, such as Great Danes. Their enormous size makes a perfect fit for someone who needs help with balance while walking.
Smaller service dogs help those who have emotional and mental disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These dogs are classified as emotional support dogs, but they still fall under the Fair Housing Act because they are service dogs and not pets.
A dog needs to have undergone training and received certification to be labeled as a service dog. Sometimes, emotional support dogs do not go through training but are certified based on a written statement from the individual's mental health provider stating that they need emotional support from their dog.
If you have an applicant for your rental unit who has a service dog, you are probably concerned about how your property may become damaged. After all, that is likely the biggest reason why you have a no pet policy. Fortunately, due to the extensive training that service dogs go through, there shouldn't be a problem with destruction of your property. However, you may want to consider making a few changes to your rental property to accommodate a service dog.
- If possible, install a doggy door so the dog can easily go to the bathroom if or when the tenant is unable to let them outside due to their disability. Of course, you'll want to fence in the yard so the dog will be confined to the yard. Even though service dogs generally are well-trained, they may be tempted to chase a squirrel or bunny.
- Prevent grass from getting damaged from urine by installing a water sprinkler to dilute it. If grass does become damaged, remove the dead grass and sprinkle grass seed in the bare spots. Sprinkle the area with mulch and water. A property management company can sub-contract a lawn service to do this for you on a regular basis to control lawn damage.
- Replace hardwood flooring with a more durable material. Hardwood flooring can become scratched by the dog's nails, especially large dogs that weigh as much as a human. If you want the look of wood for the flooring, choose a scratch-resistant laminate or a ceramic tile.
- Of course, carpeting should be removed. That way, you won't have to worry about any bathroom accidents that could ruin it and the padding underneath. When you remove the carpeting, you will need to keep the thresholds of the doorways in mind. A tenant with mobility problems may not be able to easily walk through doorways that have an uneven threshold.
Most landlords hesitate when it comes to allowing dogs to live in their rental units. However, discriminating against applicants who have service dogs for their disabilities is illegal. Hire a property management company to help you when renting to someone with a service dog.